Regardless of what side you fall on the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council’s splintered government, one thing was clear following the June 3 primary election, “the people want change.”
Three incumbents, including Chairman Willie Sharp Jr., were ousted during the election on the reservation east of the divide. Now, 10 candidates are jockeying for five open spots on the council that will be determined during the June 24 general election.
“The people want change and no one is happy about this impasse that has gone on for nine months now,” said Shannon Augare, a state senator and tribal council member who decided not to run for re-election this year.
In the race to represent Browning District No. 2, Sharp, who received just 136 votes, lost to Harry Barnes and Glenda Daisy Gilham. Incumbent Allen “Shane” Goss lost to Jody A. Guardipee and Iliff “Scott” Kipp Sr. to represent Old Agency District No. 8. In the Seville District No. 6 race, incumbent Leon Vielle lost the primary to Stacey A. Gilham and Tyson T. Running Wolf. The only incumbent who did not lose their bid for re-election was Paul McEvers, who will face Joseph McKay in the general election to represent Browning District No. 3. In Heart Butte District No. 4, David Spotted Eagle Sr. will face Nelse St. Goddard in the general. More than 80 tribal members were on the primary ballot.
Following the general election, the five new members will be sworn in during North American Indian Days in early July. Those five will join the four current members, Cheryl Little Dog, Bill Old Chief, Forestina Calf Boss Ribs and Chief Earl Old Person, in selecting a new chairmen by a secret ballot.
Sharp, who was selected chairman in 2012, said the tribal council frustrated him over the last two years. The reservation’s governing body has been mired in infighting that led it to split into two different factions late last year.
“I think we could have done great things to move this tribe forward,” Sharp said. “I hope people move on.”
Although more than 3,000 people voted in the June 3 primary, some questioned if the election was even legal. This year’s election board was selected by Sharp’s faction and was not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“The election was still not recognized by Roger Running Crane’s faction or the BIA,” Augare said. “But I think the community felt an obligation to partake in this election and let Willie Sharp’s faction now that they’ve had enough.”
Sharp said that the legality of the election is in the BIA’s court, but as far as he was concerned the election was legitimate and the general will go forward on June 24. He said he hopes the new council works together and resolves the pressing issues on the reservation.
“It’s up to the new council to walk the walk and do what they promised during the campaign,” Sharp said.
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