Blackfeet Council Splinters Over Series of Suspensions

By Beacon Staff

For the second time in five days, the chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe suspended two councilors on Oct. 21, including an embattled state senator charged with drunken driving.

Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. first personally suspended state Sen. Shannon Augare and Leonard Guardipee on Oct. 17. But later that day, acting-secretary Roger “Sassy” Running Crane issued a press release saying both men were not suspended and remained involved with the governing body.

During a meeting on Oct. 21, Sharp once again ordered Augare and Guardipee off the council and that afternoon both men were reportedly escorted from tribal headquarters in Browning. Sharp also reinstated councilors Bill Old Chief and Paul McEvers. Both men were suspended from the council in 2012 in what has become a bizarre political drama on the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.

Sharp defended his actions and said he had the authority to suspend the councilors because as chairman he is also head of personnel.

“I’m trying to do what’s right for the people,” Sharp said.

Earlier this month, 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 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 did not return calls from the Beacon. He told Sharp he would only leave office if the entire council voted on the matter.

On the morning of Oct. 17, Sharp called a special public meeting and asked that the council consider suspending Augare. Sharp said there was a debate but no vote. 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.

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 after being accused of improper conduct on a recent trip to Washington D.C.

But just hours after Augare and Guardipee were first suspended, acting-secretary Running Crane reported that both men were still working and that Sharp could not suspend a tribal councilor.

“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.

The following day, on Oct. 18, the Great Falls Tribune reported that Running Crane, Augare, Guardipee and Earl Old Person issued a memo ordering all tribal employees not to implement any directives unless approved by a majority of the council. Shortly after, Sharp issued another memo telling tribal employees to disregard the first memo.

On Oct. 21, the full council met for the first time in five days and Sharp once again suspended Augare and Guardipee. According to Sharp, the two councilors then barricaded themselves in an office until they were escorted out by security that afternoon. As the Beacon went to press that night, the situation appeared far from over.

“We don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Sharp said.