HAVRE — The Chippewa Cree’s governing committee says it supports a new organization to fight corruption on Montana’s Indian reservations, but one of the founders of the new group — a former tribal chairman in a leadership struggle with the committee— dismissed that pledge.
The unnamed group formed this month with representatives from Montana’s seven reservations to lobby for reforms on those reservations.
The Chippewa Cree Business Committee released a statement that says it supports the group because it is a staunch defender of civil rights, employee rights and gender equality. The tribe is cooperating with all federal investigations, the committee said, which includes a corruption investigation that has resulted in the indictment of a former committee member and state legislator.
The head of the new group is former Chippewa Cree chairman Ken Blatt St. Marks, whom the tribal committee ousted in March and pledged to remove again if St. Marks is sworn in after winning a special election this summer.
The tribe’s elections committee is fighting a court ruling that cleared the way for St. Marks to be sworn in as chairman.
The business committee says it removed St. Marks the first time because of gross misconduct and neglect of duty. St. Marks says the real reason he was ousted was because of his strong-handed tactics in rooting out corruption and because he was cooperating with the federal investigation into the misuse of federal stimulus money on the reservation.
Former Chippewa Cree Construction Co. CEO and former state Rep. Tony Belcourt, his wife and three others have been indicted in the investigation. They have pleaded not guilty.
A business committee member, John Chance Houle, also was indicted, but the charges were later dropped.
St. Marks told the Havre Daily News in a story published Thursday that the tribal committee’s pledge of support for the new group is “total baloney.”
“Do they know who is chair of this group?” he asked. “The guy they are trying to get rid of.”
Tribe spokesman Larry Denny said Chippewa Cree leaders have long favored cracking down on corruption and have put procedures in place to eliminate any illegal activities.
“I’m not sure about the management structure of this group,” he said. “But we support its goals.”
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