A Great Falls man has been jailed for comments he made on Facebook about the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. According to witnesses, Bryon Scott Farmer was arrested on Friday, July 12 for violating Tribal Ordinance 67. The law protects members of the tribal council from “allegations of threats, slanderous material and misleading information,” according to court documents.
As of Tuesday, Farmer was still in jail in Browning. Farmer is an enrolled tribal member and often comments on a Facebook page called “Blackfeet Against Corruption,” according to his aunt, Carol Grant of Browning.
Farmer has been a staunch critic of the current tribal council, which has been mired in controversy since last year. Last summer, the ruling council led by Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. suspended five other councilors and more than two dozen tribal employees. Since then, only five councilors have been in office, and critics on the reservation contend that does not constitute a quorum to conduct business.
On June 18, Farmer wrote a lengthy post on the Blackfeet Against Corruption page about the then-upcoming North American Indian Days in Browning.
“On Saturday, July 13 at North American Indian Days we will show our tribe, Indian Country, America, and the world that the Blackfeet will no longer allow corrupt leaders, illegal actions, politicians that ignore the will of the people, and abuse of our laws and people. We will show all Indians that you CAN take back your reservation when corrupt and incompetent politicians get out of control,” Farmer wrote.
Farmer continued that the tribal officials “will just have to guess what we have planned and wait like everybody else for the big day. We promise it will be exciting and make headlines worldwide. And we can tell you we are not planning anything violent or illegal so the (tribal council) will not be able to stop us.”
In the comments section, Farmer said he planned on building a float for the North American Indian Days. He said the float would include a big screen television and pictures of Adolf Hitler and Shannon Augare, the state senator and tribal councilman who recently pleaded not guilty to charges of DUI and fleeing a police officer.
On June 28, Blackfeet Chief Prosecutor Carl Pepion charged Farmer with violating Ordinance 67 and signed a warrant for his arrest. The Facebook post was referenced in the court document.
The Beacon contacted Pepion who said the tribe has “no more comments on the case” before hanging up.
On July 12, Farmer was attending a family gathering in Browning when police arrived at the private residence, according to his uncle, Gabe Grant.
“When I came over, there were four cop cars on the property and another four cop cars on the street,” he said. “There were police all over.”
Farmer was arrested and has been in jail since.
“I felt violated by what the police did,” Carol said. “Because the only thing Bryon has done is exercise his First Amendment right, his right to freedom of speech.”
Jon Ellingson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Montana chapter, said the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 protects freedom of speech, but there are other legal issues involved.
“It’s a complex interplay of the traditional first amendment rights of free speech and the rights of a tribe to make their own statutes,” he said.
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