Vote fraud suspected in land 'referendum'
For more than a year, the members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe have soundly and repeatedly rejected a proposed final settlement of tribal claims to 800,000 acres of reservation lands. On Oct. 22, the Tribal Executive Committee formally turned it down, a fact which, like the previous votes, was brought to the attention of U.S. Justice Department attorney Pamela West.
But the Justice Department apparently has as much trouble taking no for an answer as the TEC has refusing money. Five days after voting down the settlement for public consumption, the TEC "met" secretly by telephone and voted 7-1 with two abstentions to hold a mail order ballot administered by an accountant hired by the tribe. Four former TEC members are already serving federal prison sentences for corruption in office, including vote fraud.
A TEC meeting on the claims is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 1 at Grand Casino, Mille Lacs.
After several months of refusing to schedule a legal referendum, the TEC at the last minute sent ballots to tribal members in mid-November and set a deadline of Nov. 24 for their return.
MCT executive director Gary Frazer called it a "non-constitutional, binding referendum."
Tribal members, many of whom never received the ballots, call it another betrayal of Anishinabe national interests through a fraudulent, illegal vote.
"How many times do you gotta say no?" asked Tom Jones at a Nov. 24 Leech Lake general assembly. "It's not our land to sell. It belongs to our children and our grandchildren."
Pointing to the fact that article XIV of the MCT Constitution requires 8 votes from the TEC to call a referendum, Dale Hanks registered a complaint with Frazer and called on the motion's sponsor to uphold the constitution.
"Eli [Hunt] is the secretary of the TEC. Let's have another meeting with the TEC and hash this out. This referendum is totally illegal in terms of how they drew it," Hanks said. "All these things that were done under Wadena's regime are still being done. There's been no corrections."
Many complained of irregularities in the mailing of ballots and in the process itself. The ballots came on a single page folded over and sent on mailing labels including enrollment numbers. With a box for yes or no, the votes could be easily viewed from the sides or when held up to the light. There is also no requirement for the ballots to be notarized or otherwise confirmed as to the identity of the voter.
Judging by accounts of those who received no ballot at all, insufficient ballots, or extra ballots, the mailing list was at least 8 years old.
Frank Reese said his adult family members regularly receive the MCT tribal newspaper, yet less than half of them were mailed a ballot. "All five of us got the paper, but only two of us got the ballots."
Harold Monroe said the same thing happened in his family, and Leech Lake chairman Eli Hunt said even he did not receive a ballot. Several tribal members urged Hunt to apply the same standards of documentation to the land balloting as to his recall petition led by three RBC members under federal fraud investigation.
In the latter case, Hunt denounced the use of a non-Indian CPA to validate unnotarized signatures, which he termed "insulting." Very similar procedures are being followed on the land issue, but Hunt said he had no intention of violating the constitution in sponsoring the referendum motion. He agreed to meet with concerned tribal members later this week towards resolving the dispute at the TEC level.
Frazer said the tribe did not closely monitor the ballots, but that "25-26,000" were sent out. The tribal administrator said "only about 7,500" came back for incorrect address. As for confidentiality, Frazer said the mailing labels were detachable.
The ballots were collected and tabulated by Gonvick CPA Carol Peterson, who refused to reveal the results or to disclose whether she had turned them over to the tribe when contacted Tuesday afternoon.
"Where did you get my name?" demanded Peterson in response to a question from the Press. Asked what assurances she could provide that there was no fraud in the vote-counting, Peterson said, "I think you better talk to the tribe."
Tribal members charged that the federal claims court, the U.S. Justice Department and the BIA are in effect conspiring with corrupt tribal officials and their attorneys to deprive the people of their civil and inherent rights.
"The Nelson Act was a totally illegal document that was forced upon us," Hanks said. "Now it's through the bureaucracy that they're waging the war," he said. "If they approve it, it still acts as a piece of evidence that the corruption in the MCT continues."
Numerous attempts have been made by tribal members to discuss the issue directly with the federal government. In a letter dated July 30, Anishinabe Advocates spokesperson Roxanne LaRose informed U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, the local representative of the Justice Department, that the people rejected the settlement.
"Yet it appears," LaRose wrote, "that both the state and federal governments are attempting to capitalize on the current political instability by pushing through land claims settlements and jurisdictional agreements which we feel could potentially harm us for years, if not generations, to come. The people have unanimously rejected the proposed settlement every time they've been able to get it on the agenda.
"If you have any doubt about this statement, I encourage you to also hold a public hearing on this issue, as it is clear the RBC/TEC has no intention of doing so. The mere fact that the Justice Department keeps extending its deadline indicates that the settlement serves the interests of the federal government, not the Tribe," said LaRose.
Lillehaug has yet to respond.
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