A Blackfeet Tribal Business Council member was detained on Feb. 26 following a confrontation at Tribal Headquarters in Browning. Roger “Sassy” Running Crane has been charged with two counts of assault and one count of violating Ordinance 67, a law that protects council members from threats and intimidation.
But it’s still unclear what exactly happened. Both sides of the splintered tribal council are offering their own version of the events.
The Blackfeet government has been plagued with problems for more than two years, but it took a turn for the worse last fall when the nine-member tribal council split. On one side are Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. and Forrestina Calf Boss Ribs, who reappointed suspended tribal members Bill Old Chief, Cheryl Little Dog and Paul McEvers. Sharp’s faction also appointed two new tribal council members last year, Allen Goss and Leon Vielle. On the other side of the council is Running Crane, Chief Earl Old Person, Shannon Augare and Leonard Guardipee, who don’s recognize the members appointed or reappointed by Sharp’s administration. While Sharp’s faction have remained at Tribal Council, Running Crane’s group has set up shop in a building near the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, earning them the nickname as the “Log Cabin Council.”
In Sharp’s telling of events, Running Crane stormed into Tribal Headquarters on Feb. 20 after he found out that his old office was being cleaned out and threated workers and councilors.
“He was running around and beating on doors,” Sharp said. “He was threatening to beat us all up.”
According to Sharp, Blackfeet Tribal Law Enforcement conducted an investigation of the incident and on Feb. 26 the tribal court issued a temporary restraining order against Running Crane on behalf of Sharp, Vielle and a handful of tribal employees. The tribal court also issued a warrant for Running Crane’s arrest.
According to Augare, the incident took place on Feb. 26, not Feb. 20, when Running Crane was trying to access his old office and found that Vielle now occupies it. According to Augare, the two men got into a confrontation before Running Crane left Tribal Headquarters to return home to Heart Butte.
On the afternoon of Feb. 26, Blackfeet Tribal Law Enforcement stopped Running Crane just outside of Browning. According to a press release from tribal police, Running Crane was taken into custody without incident and taken to the hospital where he was given a medical screening to see if he was fit to be incarcerated. The medical screening revealed that Running Crane should not be jailed due to a heart condition and he was charged with assault and released.
Running Crane appeared in court for his arraignment on Feb. 28 and pleaded not guilty. When reached by the Beacon, Running Crane said “I’ve got no comment” before hanging up.
However, Augare said he believed the charges were bogus and that Sharp was abusing Ordinance 67, the same law that put a Native American activist behind bars last summer after he criticized the tribal council on Facebook.
“This law is meant to protect council members, not some smug thug in a councilman’s office,” Augare said. “Councilman Running Crane’s arrest is nothing more than a political move. Roger has an impeccable work record and has been a great councilor. This is just another example of how the other faction is out of control.”
Not surprisingly, Sharp disagrees.
“He may be an exemplary person but he wasn’t on that day,” Sharp said. “He was out of control and he’s not above the law.”
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