HELENA - Clara Nomee, the first woman to lead southeastern Montana's Crow Tribe in a term marred by a conviction for theft of tribal land, has died. She was 73.
Nomee died Tuesday at St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, former executive assistant Arlo Dawes said Wednesday. Dawes said he did not know the cause of her death.
Nomee was chairwoman of the tribe from 1990 to 2000, serving what Dawes said was an unprecedented five terms. She entered office at a time when the tribe was politically fractured and revenue was drying up.
"It was practically chaos at the time and she came forward and got the confidence of the people," Dawes said.
Nomee hired staff who helped secure new federal revenue streams and helped create economic stability for the tribe, he said. She was one of the original negotiators of a water-rights compact with state officials that governed the Bighorn River, a deal just ratified by the tribe last March.
She gained the respect and influence of the state and federal lawmakers she met and lobbied, all the while caring for a disabled brother, nieces, nephews and her own grandchildren.
"She was a mother, she was a grandmother, she was an aunt and she was a sister. But at the same time, she served at one of the highest positions of the Crow Nation and she maintained it for 10 years, if you can imagine," Dawes said.
In 1988, Nomee was convicted of felony theft for using her influence to buy tribal land for a fraction of its worth.
She had bought 80 acres of tribal land on Lodge Grass Creek for $8,000 in 1994, land whose value was estimated at between $21,000 and $38,000. The sale was approved by the tribe's Land Resources Committee, a panel that included Nomee appointees and other members and others elected by the tribe.
Prosecutors contended the sale was coercive because of Nomee's power over committee members. Nomee denied any intent to steal from the tribe or coerce the committee and said she offered $8,000 because it was all she had.
In January 1999, a federal judge sentenced her to six months of home detention and ordered $21,000 in fines and restitution. A federal appeals court upheld the conviction
Nomee resisted efforts to remove her from office and was defeated at the polls in 2000 by Clifford Birdinground. After Birdinground took office, he fired at least 130 tribal government employees and canceled all the deals made by Nomee's administration after her 1997 indictment.
Dawes said Nomee chose to spend the last 12 years out of the spotlight, making public appearances when asked but preferring to spend time with her family.
Funeral arrangements are pending, he said.