Blackfeet Government Shuts Down Amid Political Crisis

By Beacon Staff

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council is taking a page from Washington D.C’s playbook; they’re shutting the government down.

On Thursday, Blackfeet Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. ordered all but essential government services halted until the ongoing political dispute on the tribal council is resolved. Sharp said the council’s two factions were scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 10 a.m.

“No business is moving and we want to get it going again,” Sharp said.

The partial government shutdown comes after another week of confusion on the tribal council, which has been mired in controversy for more than a year. Meanwhile, in a letter dated Oct. 23, Acting Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Thedis Crowe offered to mediate the political dispute that has engulfed the council in recent weeks.

“Historically the Blackfeet Tribe has left a significant imprint within Indian Country, as well as served as a role model on national leadership issues that impact Tribes,” Crowe wrote. “The ability of the members of the BTBC to commit to addressing these internal issues is critical to sustain tribal government.”

Earlier this month, Chairman Sharp asked that tribal councilor and state Sen. Shannon Augare step back from his tribal council duties until his legal matters are sorted out. In May, Augare was pulled over for drunk driving near Cut Bank and he is due to appear in federal court on Nov. 7.

On Oct. 17, Sharp personally suspended Augare and councilor Leonard Guardipee. Guardipee was appointed in March to fill the Old Agency District seat that was left vacant last summer after councilor Jay Wells was suspended. Sharp says Guardipee was suspended for improper conduct on a recent trip to Washington D.C. 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.

In the days since, Sharp has stood by his personal suspension of the two councilors – even though he admitted the legality of the suspensions were questionable. This week, Sharp also reappointed Bill Old Chief, Paul McEvers and Cheryl Little Dog, all councilors suspended in August 2012.

On Oct. 24, Running Crane, Augare, Guardipee and Chief Earl Old Person issued a press release saying that Sharp was breaking the law by trying to suspend other councilors and reappoint others.

“The other faction of our Council, Councilman Willie A. Sharp Jr. and Councilwoman Forrestina “Frosty” Calf Boss Ribs, remain busy trying to create their own rules of governance and terminating some of our major department heads and other staff for political purposes,” the release stated.

The press release says that Augare and Guardipee were suspended because they had questioned recent tribal expenses, including those having to do with bonuses for Blackfeet Tribal Headstart employees, including for Chairman Sharp’s wife, Denise. On Friday, Sharp dismissed such allegations.

The stalemate took another bizarre turn on Thursday, Oct. 24, Sharp terminated the treasurer after she would not issue paychecks to Old Chief and McEvers. After that, the computer’s signature stamp with her name was removed, meaning the tribe could not issue anymore checks. Treasurer Tinsuwella Bird Rattler told the Beacon Friday afternoon that she did not want to issue the checks tol Old Chief and McEvers because she did not have the legal authority to do so. After Sharp terminated Bird Rattler, the other faction of the council instructed the tribe’s bank to freeze all assets and spending. Sharp then decided to shutdown the government until both factions can meet and discuss a solution. Ironically, both sides say they want to meet, but blame the other for not coming to the table.

“They say they want to come to the table, but they are the ones who walked away,” Sharp said. “We’re still at the table waiting for them to come back.”

“They need to come back to the table and work with the four of us to conduct the proper business affairs of the Blackfeet Tribe,” Running Crane wrote in a press release.

Sharp said during the tribal government shutdown, all essential services will continue, including law enforcement and trash pick up.