Northern Cheyenne leaders challenged

Billings, Montana (AP) 11-07

A group of Northern Cheyenne tribal members is calling for a referendum to rescind or revise several tribal laws and bring changes in tribal government.

The Northern Cheyenne government has been in turmoil since summer, when eight council members and Vice President Rick Wolfname split with President Eugene Little Coyote.

The petition group’s coordinator, Marie Sanchez, presented the documents calling for the referendum to the tribal council during a special meeting the last week of November. The petition was given to tribal Secretary Sharlene Evans, who will validate the signatures and set an election date.

The petition states that a referendum is “guaranteed” by the constitution and bylaws if called for by a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the registered voters of the tribe. Signature gatherers said 673 people signed the petition. About 1,200 people voted in the tribe’s November 2006 general election.

According to the constitution, the outcome of such a referendum is binding on the tribal council when at least 30 percent of the voters turn out.

“They (the council) can’t refuse it,” Sanchez said.

However, there is no precedent for this type of petition and call for referendum. That doesn’t faze Sanchez or others in the group who said this is a strange time in Northern Cheyenne politics with a polarized government and some elected officials who aren’t responsive to their constituents.

“We never were in this type of turmoil before,” Sanchez said.

The referendum seeks to change or nullify ordinances and resolutions passed by the current and previous tribal councils.

The changes would strongly affect members of the council who have since summer held council sessions at the tribe’s Charging Horse Casino and made attempts to oust Eugene Little Coyote. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has not acknowledged their ousters and the tribal Constitutional Court sided with Little Coyote and determined the council members acted without authority.