ND judge mediates SD tribal dispute
LOWER BRULE, S.D. -- A tribal judge has ordered the Lower Brule Sioux tribal council in west-central South Dakota to hold a council meeting in March as it tries to resolve conflicts that have arisen since a report accusing the council of mishandl...
LOWER BRULE, S.D. - A tribal judge has ordered the Lower Brule Sioux tribal council in west-central South Dakota to hold a council meeting in March as it tries to resolve conflicts that have arisen since a report accusing the council of mishandling millions of dollars surfaced.
The tribe has been in the spotlight since the national report accusing the council of mishandling funds over a seven-year period. The Human Rights Watch report said $25 million meant to provide essential services, economic development and alleviation of poverty is unaccounted for.
Longtime tribal leader Michael Jandreau, a popular and well-known leader across the state and nation, has called the report largely untrue and biased. He said three of the newly elected tribal council members attempted to overthrow the council in December.
The allocation of funds on the Lower Brule reservation is done by the council through resolution, according to Human Rights Watch. The resolutions should be available to the general public, which is mandated by the tribe’s constitution.
And the tribal council is supposed to hold meetings on the first Wednesday of each month.
Judge B.J. Jones of Fargo has been trying to coax the two factions on the council to resolve their conflicts. The judge issued his order just before 1 p.m. last Thursday after a four-hour, closed-door meeting of the council members and attorneys attempting to find a resolution failed to come to an agreement.
Jones serves as a tribal court judge for more than 10 different tribal nations and currently serves as director of the Tribal Judicial Institute at the University of North Dakota School of Law.
Jones presided over the hearing, which was scheduled when Jandreau, secretary/treasurer Red Langdeau and councilman John McCauley asked the court to prevent their removal from office by vice chairman Kevin Wright, chairman Sonny Ziegler and chairwoman DesiRee LaRoche.
“The tribe is being harmed by all this,” Jones said. “You have a constitutional duty to govern your people. Am I to understand you’ve had no council meeting since you were elected?”
All council members answered in the affirmative.
The council members were elected in September but have been split three against three since then. According to the members, the council has not held a meeting - which it is required to do once a month through its own constitution -since the council was elected.
Wright, LaRoche and Ziegler previously said they want transparency in the tribal government. The trio asked to see financial records, a request that helped spark Thursday’s court hearing.
Besides calling for the council meeting, Jones said he had no jurisdiction over the issue of whether Jandreau, Langdeau and McCauley can be removed from office.
But he told council members he does have the authority to order them to hold a meeting.
Jones said if any member refuses to take part in a meeting, they will be held in contempt of court and be arrested.
“The court could also order a recall of everybody on the council, but we’re not at that point because I’m confident this council can meet,” Jones said.
Jones briefly addressed the crowd in the courtroom as well, of which there were about 20.
“I appreciate everybody being here. It shows you have a great concern for your community,” he said.
Jandreau declined to comment after the hearing, but Wright said he felt it was a move in the right direction.
“I think we can move forward,” he said.
Wright added that when the council attempted to hold meetings since the September election, Jandreau, Langdeau and McCauley would show up but then walk out of the meeting. He is hopeful the full council will be able to hold a meeting in March.