The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council is splintering and Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. has declared a state of emergency after tribal members protested the suspension of four council members in late August.
Additional law enforcement from the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap reservations has arrived over fears of violence after two protests took place outside of tribal headquarters in Browning on Aug. 19 and 26. According to sources, at least two protesters were arrested on Aug. 26.
But the councilors who were suspended, including William “Bill” Old Chief, Cheryl Lynn Little Dog, Woodrow “Jay” Wells and Paul McEvers, say the additional law enforcement is unnecessary and that the protesters were peaceful. They also say their suspension was unconstitutional.
“They are trying to put on a big old show and make (the Blackfeet Reservation) seem like a bad place, but it’s not,” said former council member Jesse “Jay” St. Goddard, who was also suspended earlier this year, over allegations of participating in an illegal moose hunt, something he denies. “(Sharp) gets off on it; he likes to think he is the president or something.”
Multiple attempts were made by the Beacon last week to interview Chairman Sharp or any other remaining members of the tribal council, but no calls were returned. The Beacon also attempted to talk to tribal attorney Sandra Watts about the suspensions and alleged arrests but a secretary said Watts had “no comment.”
On Aug. 19 during an emergency council meeting, McEvers was suspended pending legal proceedings. In a press release, it stated evidence was presented showing McEvers had violated Tribal Ordinance No. 67, which reads, according to the Great Falls Tribune: “Whoever forcibly assaults, threatens, practices intimidation upon, or interferes with a Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, upon conviction (may) be fined $500 and Six (6) months imprisonment in the Blackfeet Jail.” The vote to suspend McEvers with pay was four in favor, three against and one abstaining.
During the meeting, a large group of protesters gathered outside and began yelling at council members as they left the building escorted by police. Two days later, a video of the protest was uploaded to YouTube. In it, yells of “you’re fired” can be heard in the background.
On Aug. 23, Old Chief, Wells and Little Dog met in a special meeting and drafted an executive action resolution naming Old Chief as acting chairman and suspending Sharp, Forrestina Calf Boss Ribs, Shannon Augare, Earl Old Person and Roger Running Crane. None of those actions were carried out.
On Aug. 27, Chairman Sharp called another special meeting and Old Chief, Wells and Little Dog were all suspended. After the suspension vote, Sharp declared a state of emergency over concerns of violent protests. The declaration gives the executive committee the ability to “request any and all available resources to combat violence” until further notice.
During the meeting, another protest started outside of tribal headquarters and, according to St. Goddard, at least two people were arrested.
Last week, Old Chief and Wells said the federal government or another third party needed to come in and resolve the issues that have arisen. Wells placed the blame squarely on Sharp and councilman Augare.
“We have no voice because it’s a dictatorship,” Wells said. “We have two people who are corrupt and they are interpreting the constitution as they want.”
Old Chief called the remaining councilors “enemies within” and said they had no right to kick out democratically elected councilors. Old Chief was elected to the council on June 26.
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