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Tribal Council, People’s Voice continue tussle

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PABLO — When the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes received approximately $150,126,000 from the Nez Perce/Salazar settlement last year, the Tribal Council decided to give each tribal member $10,000 on Sept. 12, 2012.

That amount added up to about half of the settlement money. 

The Nez Perce Tribe, et al, v. Kenneth L. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, et al, suit was settled on April 11, 2012. Money went to 41 tribes across the United States for funds lost in mismanaged accounts and from royalties for oil, gas, grazing and timber right on tribal lands that tribes did not receive.

Since September, the CSKT Tribal Council has been under fire from the People’s Voice, a group that wants all the money from the Salazar settlement distributed directly to tribal members. The group collected signatures on a petition for a referendum so the Tribal Council would have to bring the issue to election, as provided for in the CSKT Constitution. 

In January, CSKT Chairman Joe Durglo sent a letter to the People’s Voice detailing why Tribal Council declined the request for a Title 9 referendum vote.   

According to an article in the Feb. 14 issue of the Char-Koosta News, the official news publication of the Flathead Indian Reservation, one reason for the council’s decision was that a qualifying petition needs to contain the signatures of one-third of CSKT’s eligible voters.  

The CSKT Enrollment Office found that a “numbers of names and signatures ... would not quality as eligible voters.” The office added that the number of petition signatures submitted couldn’t be verified with any accuracy for the purposes of an Article 9 referendum.

People’s Voice member Sharon Rosenbaum said if there were problems with signatures, the people should have been given 10 days to bring in their IDs and resolve the problem. About 1,414 signatures were gathered, she said, and the petition only needed 1,200 to account for one-third of tribal members on the reservation.

“(CSKT members) have a constitution, and we have federal laws and an ordinance that provides the steps,” she explained.

Ordinance 53A, according to Rosenbaum, tells the council how they are supposed to handle a referendum. 

Another reason given was improper form of the petition and the process of signature collection.

According to Durglo’s letter, secretarial standards of the Code of Federal Regulations were not met in areas including the form of the signature page, the name, signature and address verifications and notarization requirements. Also, the Tribal Council and reviewing staff said the signature gathering process was questionable, as petitions were left sitting unattended in public places. Individuals witnessed people signing for relatives who were not present. 

In rebutting this, Rosenbaum said secretarial petitions are used only to make changes to the constitution. The People’s Voice didn’t want to change the constitution; they wanted to put the issue of the Salazar settlement up for a vote of the people, Rosenbaum emphasized

The final issue was the petition was not a proper request for an Article 9 referendum. 

The People’s Voice petition “seeks to compel Tribal Council to take an action it had not contemplated taking, which is distributing unallocated Salazar settlement funds to the tribal members through a per-capita payment.”

The People’s Voice petition was submitted pursuant to Article 9 of the CSKT Constitution, which allows for members to petition council to hold a referendum vote — “a simple yes or no vote” on an action taken, or being formally proposed by the government.”

The council said the only referendum vote possible would be a “yes or no” vote on the $10,000 already distributed to tribal members.

The People’s Voice is planning another petition drive on March 23, and they are asking tribal members to bring their tribal IDs and sign the referendum petition, so the Tribal Council will allow a vote on the Salazar settlement money. 

Tribal members may also sign a recall petition to put a provision in the CSKT Constitution so that the tribal membership has the power to recall a council member. 

This recall petition, Rosenbaum said, will go through Bureau of Indian Affairs channels to the United States Secretary of the Interior. 

Signature collection sites will be open on March 23 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and will be held at the Tribal Senior Citizen Center in Ronan, a fifth wheel in the parking lot of Super One Foods in Polson and the community center in Hot Springs. No site has been chosen in Pablo yet.

Petitions will be available for signing in the Dixon Senior Citizen Center from noon to 6 p.m. on March 24.

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