Protesters in Browning say they have no plans of standing down in their attempt to take over the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. At least five people were arrested Tuesday when a group of 50 or 60 people gathered outside of tribal headquarters demanding the current council step down.
The effort was led by suspended tribal council member Cheryl Little Dog, who issued a declaration to tribal officials, saying the ruling council, led by Chairman Willie Sharp Jr., must hand over power.
“This is a peaceful takeover, we don’t want any violence,” said Roberta Cross Guns, an attorney for Little Dog.
The attempted government take over comes after a year of political unrest on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Last summer, members of the ruling council suspended five other councilors and dozens of tribal employees. Since then the nine-member panel has been partially vacant and Sharp’s administration is ruling under an emergency declaration.
In August, Little Dog brought her case to a traditional customs court and it ruled in her favor, stating a new tribal council needed to be put in place. A traditional customs court is a board led by tribal elders. Its order demands that an interim council be put in place until a special election is held.
But on Tuesday afternoon, Sharp said he was not about to hand the government over to the protestors.
“The traditional customs court has no legal authority over the tribal council,” Sharp told the Beacon.
According to protesters, five people were arrested. Sharp, who had left tribal headquarters earlier in the day, confirmed people were arrested but he didn’t know how many. He said the tribal offices were locked down and that police were trying to disperse the crowd. He also said that the ruling tribal council had been meeting throughout the day.
“Our main goal is the safety of the public trying to come into the building,” Sharp said. “They are heckling people who are trying to do business.”
The arrests were made after councilman and state Senator Shannon Augare made a motion directing tribal law enforcement officers to clear the property of all protesters. The motion carried unanimously with four votes. Augare made headlines earlier this year when he was pulled over for allegedly driving under the influence near Cut Bank. He pleaded not guilty to federal charges and a trial has been set for later this month.
Little Dog said she was charged with assaulting an officer during the protest on Tuesday. She said the officers were aggressive towards the protesters as they cleared the area.
“They arrested a bunch of people for no reason,” she said.
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