Despite opposition, the chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council is standing by his decision to suspend two councilors, including an embattled state senator charged with drunken driving.
Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. personally suspended state Sen. Shannon Augare and Leonard Guardipee on Thursday. But later that day, acting-secretary Roger “Sassy” Running Crane issued a press release saying the two men were not suspended and remain involved with the governing body.
“The chairman and the vice-chairwomen do not have the power or authority to direct such an action on a councilperson and we, a majority of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, wholly disagree that such an action is necessary,” Running Crane wrote in a press release.
But on Friday afternoon, Sharp reaffirmed that Augare and Guardipee remain suspended. He said Running Crane would be reprimanded for sending out the press release and he dismissed questions of whether he is losing control of his own government. Sharp was named chairman of the council in 2012.
“I feel that I do have control of the government,” he said. “I have the power under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Last week, Sharp asked Augare to step down until his legal matters were sorted out. In May, the Browning Democrat was pulled over by a Glacier County sheriff’s deputy near Cut Bank. According to the officer, Augare was driving recklessly and the inside of the vehicle smelled of alcohol. Augare told the officer that he didn’t have jurisdiction and drove off. This summer, Augare was charged with misdemeanor counts of drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer. A trial is set for Nov. 7.
Augare responded to Sharp’s request to step down by saying he would not leave office unless the entire council voted on the matter. Sharp said he would ask the council to formally suspend Augare.
On the morning of Oct. 17, Sharp called a special public meeting and asked that the council consider suspending Augare. About 20 people attended the public meeting, according to Sharp. Sharp said there was a debate but no vote emerged. About 10 minutes later, Augare, Guardipee and fellow councilor Running Crane abruptly walked out of the meeting. At that point, Sharp said he decided to personally suspend Augare and Guardipee. He then asked tribal security to escort the councilors out of tribal headquarters.
Guardipee was appointed in March to fill the Old Agency District seat that was left vacant last summer after Jay Wells was suspended. Sharp says Guardipee was suspended for improper conduct on a recent trip to Washington D.C.
“I find it disturbing that someone would go on a trip with tribal money but not perform his duties,” Sharp said of Guardipee.
Thursday’s suspension of Augare is just the latest in what has become a bizarre political saga on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. In early 2012, Jesse “Jay” St. Goddard was suspended for authorizing an illegal moose hunt. In 2013 St. Goddard pleased guilty to federal charges.
In July 2012, a month after the tribe’s biennial election, a group of newly elected councilors contested that St. Goddard’s suspension was illegal because only six of the nine tribal councilors voted on the matter. According to the Blackfeet Constitution, a council “may expel a member for cause by two-thirds or more members of the entire Blackfeet Tribal Business Council voting for expulsion.”
On Aug. 19, 2012, councilor Paul McEvers was suspended for violating Tribal Ordinance No. 67, which protects the council from threats and intimidation. The council, including Chairman Sharp, alleged that McEvers had used tribal office equipment to prepare petitions to remove some members of the council.
A week later, a group of councilors who supported McEvers voted on a resolution to suspend Sharp, Augare, Running Crane, Forrestina Calf Boss Ribs and Earl Old Person, Sr., and form a new council. None of those actions were taken and soon after, on Aug. 27, Chairman Sharp declared a state of emergency. That same day, Sharp led the council in a vote to suspend Little Dog, Old Chief and Wells. In a press release, the ruling council said the suspensions were necessary to protect the tribe and that the councilors had “grossly violated the Blackfeet Constitution and their oath of office by attempting to form a new Tribal Council.”
Since the four councilors were suspended in August 2012, Sharp has ruled with a partially vacant council. Dozens of tribal employees have been fired and protests have become common in Browning. In September of this year, seven people were arrested during an attempted government takeover in Browning.
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