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Yankton out as tribal chairman

FORT TOTTEN - Roger Yankton Sr. was ousted as chairman of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe Monday at a general meeting of tribal members.

The vote was 284-145 to recall the controversial chairman, who was elected in 2011 and has presided over a tumultuous period on the reservation, including allegations of abuse of power, corruption, intimidation and failure to pull the tribe out of a a crisis in child protection.

After the vote to remove Yankton, members nominated three men to replace him and began voting. They are Russ McDonald, an administrator at the tribal college; Phillip (Skip) Longie Sr., and Robert Thompson Jr., who ran unsuccessfully earlier this year for a seat on the Tribal Council from the St. Michael district.

"I'm just tired of us being on the news all the time," said Alfrieda Dunn, 56, explaining why she voted to remove Yankton.

"All his relatives are in high positions and they're not qualified," she said.

Of the child protection issue, she said, "He didn't handle that well at all."

Dunn left after casting her vote in the recall and didn't participate in the election of a new chairman.

"I don't care who is elected as long as he (Yankton) is out," she said.

Fifteen Bureau of Indian Affairs officers were in place at Four Winds School here to provide security as members of the Spirit Lake Nation gathered to decide Yankton's fate.

The assembly was called for 10 a.m. today by Vice Chairman Joel Redfox following certification of a recall petition presented by tribal members.

The Tribal Council, headed by Yankton, voted on Thursday to bar reporters from the meeting.

The recall petition contained 547 valid signatures, the tribal elections board determined, just seven more than required to force the meeting.

Erich Longie, a Spirit Lake elder and educator who operates a consulting company on the reservation and took the lead in circulating the recall petition, started the meeting by detailing what he believes have been failings in Yankton's leadership, according to members who left the meeting.

Yankton responded by criticizing Longie, who he said was partly responsible for the tribal college's loss of accreditation years ago when he was an administrator there.

Members interrupted the chairman by clapping in unison and shouting, "Vote! Vote!" and the voting began.

Members lined up to affirm their enrolled status with the tribe and cast a secret ballot.

Yankton has been under fire from tribal members who accuse him of failing to provide effective day-to-day leadership, corruption and using intimidating tactics against critics.

Yankton declined to comment before the meeting started.

"I'm busy," he said. "I have a government to run."

Redfox also declined comment.

The heavy federal police presence at the school, which is not in session, includes officers brought in from other BIA jurisdictions and reflects concerns on both sides that the meeting could become contentious.

The council voted to keep the meeting closed to media because "we've been dragged through the mud the past few days," said Nancy Greene-Robertson, the tribal secretary-treasurer and a member of the council.

"This is a chance for everyone to express their views," she said. "And it's a chance for the chairman to share his views."

According to some Yankton opponents, a delegation of tribal members met last week in Bismarck with the state commissioner of Indian Affairs to outline their concerns about the chairman. Bernice Juarez, one of the petition drive leaders, said that could provide dissidents with another option if the recall effort fails