Blackfeet Council Members Butt Heads Over New Appointee

By Beacon Staff

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council took two steps forward and then three steps back this week.

After agreeing to pay its employees for the first time in nearly a month, it appeared that the divided council was making progress in resolving the issues that have plagued the tribal government since October. But on Nov. 21, Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. announced that his faction had expelled Councilman Leonard Guardipee and replaced him with Allen Shane Goss.

“We’ve lost all good faith in Chairman Sharp and Councilwoman Forestina Calf Boss Ribs. We’re taking steps backwards,” said Councilman Shannon Augare on Friday. “Willie Sharp has created his own fantasy land of power where he’s not just the chairman, he’s the whole council.”

Since October, the government that overseas a reservation the size of Delaware has been split. On one side is Sharp and Calf Boss Ribs, along with recently reappointed members Bill Old Chief, Cheryl Little Dog and Paul McEvers. On the other side are Augare, Guardipee, Roger “Sassy” Running Crane and Chief Earl Old Person.

On Nov. 20, Sharp announced that the two sides had come to an agreement to pay employees and vendors for the first time in nearly a month. According to Augare, all of the councilors except Old Chief, Little Dog and McEvers signed a document requesting the tribe’s funds be unfrozen and that the previous treasurer be reinstated. Treasurer Tinsuwella Bird Rattler was fired by Sharp in October after she refused to issue checks to the recently reinstated council members. The agreement also allowed the treasurer to issue two paychecks to Old Chief, Little Dog and McEvers. Augare said although his faction still does not recognize the three as voting members, the payments were a compromise in hopes of moving things forward.

After that deal was made, Running Crane and Augare said the two sides agreed to meet on Monday, Nov. 25, to discuss ways to reunite the split government. But on Nov. 21, Chairman Sharp’s faction expelled Councilman Gaurdipee and replaced him with a new member, Allen Shane Goss.

In October, Sharp tried to personally suspend Guardipee because of improper conduct on a trip to Washington, D.C. After that, the council split, with one side remaining at tribal headquarters and the other setting up shop at the tribal casino. Sharp said Guardipee was supposed to meet with the council on Nov. 21 to discuss his future on the board. When Guardipee did not show up to the meeting, Sharp’s faction went ahead and replaced him. Sharp said the appointment of Goss gives his faction a quorum to conduct business.

“We’ve got six members so we’re moving on,” Sharp said. “The crisis is over.”

But Augare said Sharp’s faction has again overstepped its bounds with Goss’ appointment.

“(Goss) was a custodian two days ago and now he’s been illegally appointed to the highest office in Blackfeet Country,” Aguare said.

Sharp disputed the idea that his faction of the council was abusing its power. He added that he believes the BIA will accept Goss’ appointment and that he is only doing what the agency wants them to do which is solve the issues internally.

Running Crane said he believes the Bureau of Indian Affairs will reject Goss’ appointment and that in the end, Garudipee’s expulsion will be “null and void.”

Augare said he hopes the impasse will be resolved soon and added that he believes the BIA needs to “decide who is right and who is wrong so that this government can move forward.”

Augare has rarely spoken to the media since his legal trouble arose and during the government crisis. Earlier this month, Augare pleaded guilty to drunken driving, reckless driving and obstructing a peace officer in federal court because if a traffic stop in May near Cut Bank.

But Augare he said he hoped that the council could come together and resolve its issues so it could get back to work. Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, Augare noted that the recent events in the Blackfeet tribal government show that something needs to be done to its constitution. Many have said that the issues the Blackfeet are facing are rooted in a flawed government system that does not allow for separation of powers.

“It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, I think we can all agree that there are a lot of loopholes in our constitution,” Augare said. “This is the perfect time to bring about constitutional reform and that discussion should include all sides of the council.”