The Bureau of Indian Affairs is stepping in to officiate an election for the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians, two years after the expiration of the chairman's term.
Seven such election attempts have been called for, then canceled by chairman Leon Bear, since his term expired in 2004. The reason cited was a lack of a quorum of 44 voting members of the band.
Last month, band members requested by resolution that the BIA officiate an election after the three-member executive committee was effectively dissolved at a general council meeting when vice chairwoman Lori Bear resigned. The secretary position was already vacant.
Normally the BIA doesn't get involved in internal tribal affairs, said Chester Mills, superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Uintah and Ouray Agency.
Mills said there were several involved in the decision-making process but he personally believed the exception was merited because the vice chairwoman's resignation "basically left a nonfuctioning governing body."
The nominations and elections will be handled by certified mail, Mills said. The BIA sent out letters to all the voting-age members of the band, calling for nominations to fill the executive committee slots by Oct. 6. Then, ballots with the top two candidates for each position will be sent out. Mills said the election results would be announced the week of Oct. 23.
Mills said the mail-in ballots will give all members of the band a chance to participate.
However, the election plan is controversial for at least one of Leon Bear's staunchest opponents who says she wants the election to be held the traditional way at a special general council election meeting on the reservation in western Tooele County.
Margene Bullcreek, who has long opposed Bear and the plans to store nuclear waste on the reservation, has wanted the BIA to oversee elections but said mail isn't the way to do it.
"It's a little strange," Bullcreek said. "The BIA has to realize we are a sovereign nation. ... We do have a customary way of doing things."
Bear hadn't yet seen the letter but said he hoped the elections would go forward, either in the traditional manner or by mail-in.
"Whatever works," Bear said. "If we can get a chairman in, either to replace me or put me back in, whatever they want to do."
Bear's leadership has been questioned for years by some members of the band amid the controversial proposal to store nuclear waste on the reservation.
Earlier this month, the Department of Interior denied a lease for the Private Fuel Storage consortium to store temporarily 40,000 tons of nuclear waste on the reservation. The deal, which Bear has said could bring millions to the small band, has caused deep divisions.
Opponents accused Bear of cutting off his critics from the band's coffers, and in 2001, three band members claimed to replace Bear in a special recall election. The BIA didn't recognize the recall and continued to recognize Bear as chairman. The three band members and their attorney were ordered by a federal judge to repay money taken from band accounts.Meanwhile, Bear is currently on federal probation after pleading guilty to federal charges. He has been ordered to repay the Internal Revenue Service $13,101 in unpaid taxes and to repay his tribe $31,500 for duplicate stipends he billed the band.