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The Douglas Indian Association held tribal council elections for four of its nine seats Monday in a vote that could cause current tribal leadership to lose recognition from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, said Niles Cesar, BIA regional director for Alaska.
"If they in fact elected four of a nine-member board, in violation of their constitution, it's likely that the legitimacy of the tribal government would be in question by the bureau," said Cesar.
The DIA is a federally recognized tribal group with about 400 members. The group has lobbied for subsistence fishing rights, ownership of Mayflower Island near Savikko Park, and reconstruction of traditional Tlingit villages.
The BIA contracts with the Douglas Indian Association to provide general assistance and education services to tribe members. The federal agency has the power to reassume that contract and enlist other organizations to provide those services, Cesar said.
Because no election has been held for the DIA tribal council since January 2001, and those election results were declared invalid by tribal council President Dorothy Owen and the BIA, all nine council seats should be open for an election, Cesar said. Normally, four or five council seats are elected per year.
Certified election results will not be released until March 17, tribal members were told in a letter from Dapcevich Accounting Service, the Sitka-based firm hired by the tribe to conduct the elections. Preliminary results released by the firm show Henry Howard, Charles Williams, Jim Marks and Bradley Fluetsch as the top four vote-getters.
Twenty-three ballots included votes for more than four candidates, rendering them invalid. The total number of votes will not be released until all the absentee ballots have been received, said David Dapcevich, an inspector of elections from the firm.
These ballots were cast in protest by tribe members who disagree with the decision of the current tribal council, led by Owen, to elect only four new members and to not allow write-in candidates, said Clarence Laiti, a DIA member.
"Our tribe's hands are really tied on this," said Laiti. "We can't get a fair election. This election with this new clause, no write-ins - even Saddam Hussein had a write-in on his ballot."
Owen would not comment about the elections when contacted by the Empire.
Though the BIA strongly encouraged the DIA to hold the elections, the federal agency told the tribe it only would acknowledge an election for all nine tribal council seats, said Cesar.
The BIA will not take any action until the election results are certified, Cesar said. But if the elections were for only four seats, as Dapcevich Accounting indicated, the consequences for the tribe could be financial.
"When we're presented with a situation where clearly the constitution says one thing and the tribal leadership chooses to go in a different direction, then the federal government must review it and give our interpretation of what is best to do," Cesar said.
"... If they chose to ignore us, continue to act as an illegitimate tribal government, there isn't much we can do except take some action vis a vis the contract."
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.