PABLO – Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will be able to decide whether they want to amend their constitution to allow themselves to petition to recall their council representatives, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In a letter from BIA Northwest Regional Solicitor Stanley M. Speaks, a group on the Flathead Indian Reservation that is seeking an election to decide whether 100 percent of what’s known as the Salazar Settlement should be distributed among the CSKT membership learned this week it had successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a secretarial election to amend the tribes’ constitution.
Presently, only the Tribal Council can remove a council member from office.
The proposed amendment would give the membership “the power to recall any tribal council person for malfeasance, or any part of the Confederated Tribes’ Constitution.”
A recall petition would require the signatures of at least one-third of the eligible voters qualified to vote in the most recent tribal election. That would trigger a recall election.
The People’s Voice, a group that organized to seek a popular vote on whether all of the $150 million the Flathead Reservation tribes were awarded in the Salazar Settlement should be divided among tribal members, wants the change.
The Tribal Council voted to distribute a little over half the settlement money to CSKT’s approximately 7,800 members, and use the balance to help fund and expand several tribal programs.
Just over a year ago, approximately $78 million was distributed in the form of $10,000 checks.
The People’s Voice wants the membership to vote on whether the rest – which would amount to approximately $9,000 apiece – should be distributed to tribal members as well.
On Thursday the group’s attorney, Howard Toole of Missoula, filed a complaint in Tribal Court alleging the council violated the CSKT constitution by twice rejecting petitions from the People’s Voice requesting that the entire membership be allowed to vote on whether to distribute all of the Salazar money.
“We’re claiming the tribes mishandled, and inaccurately counted, the signatures,” Toole said, “and that the council is unwilling to implement Article 9 of the constitution.”
That article says that with the submission of the signatures of one-third of the eligible voters, any enacted or proposed ordinance can be submitted to a popular referendum. Toole said the council found an initial petition on the matter “legally inadequate,” and rejected a second petition on the grounds that it lacked enough eligible signatures.
CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald said Thursday the council could not yet comment on either the complaint, or the recall election.
“As for the court case, council has not seen or been able to review its contents,” McDonald said.
Much the same held true for the BIA-sanctioned election, McDonald added.
“We’ve been told by individuals the information is coming, but it’s not something we have seen or reviewed,” he said. “The language hasn’t been provided. The heads-up has been given, but we have not been given the meat and potatoes.”
Speaks, in his letter to People’s Voice president Sharon Rosenbaum of St. Ignatius, said the BIA’s review of the petition involving the proposed amendment disqualified 60 of the 1,395 signatures gathered.
“Of (the 1,395 signatures), we found 32 lived outside the reservation, 10 signed twice and 18 printed their signatures,” Speaks said.
After those were invalidated, the petition still had 1,335 signatures from eligible voters, more than the 1,280 – or one-third of the 3,839 eligible voters – required.
The secretarial election “will take place in the near future,” according to Speaks.
While they’re separate issues, Toole said signatures for the two petitions were gathered by the same people at the same time.
“It’s interesting to note that the BIA cleared the recall one with ample signatures,” Toole said, “but the tribes turned down the other.”
According to Jeri Roullier of St. Ignatius, spokeswoman for the People’s Voice, the petition asking for a popular vote on the Salazar settlement gathered 53 more signatures than the one on the proposed recall amendment, but was still rejected.
Of the 1,448 submitted to the Council, she said, 263 were invalidated and, she charges, another 189 disappeared.
That took the total below 1,000, and left it short of the 1,280 needed.
“They rejected a lot of signatures, and pages of signatures were lost,” Toole said. “We’re asking tribal judges to determine whether the people’s right to a popular referendum was violated by rejecting the petition.”