A petition drive to recall tribal leaders on the Ute Indian Reservation is progressing, and an opposition leader hopes the effort will result in the ouster of all six members of the tribe's ruling Business Committee.
The drive follows a Jan. 10 "traditional" vote by a group of dissident Utes calling themselves Concerned Tribal Members, who charged the committee with wrongdoing and voted them out of office during a day-long public meeting.The committee, however, remains in office until the petition process, required by the tribal constitution, results in a formal recall election within 120 days after petitions are taken out.
"I understand it (the petition drive) is still moving forward. I haven't seen any numbers, but it's still progressing," said Perry Baker, Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.
The Ute Constitution requires that petitioners collect signatures from one-third of the members of each of the tribe's three bands - the White River, Uncompahgre and Uintah bands - before a referendum is held, Baker said.
Luke Duncan of Concerned Tribal Members declined to reveal the number of signatures collected so far but said the drive in all three bands is ahead of schedule. "I can tell you that they are pretty well complete," he said.
Duncan said the opposition is conforming to the tribe's constitution but said that the earlier "traditional" vote was binding because the constitution also requires the Business Committee to "uphold traditional ways."
"According to our constitution, it says the Business Committee will uphold traditional ways, and they ignored that. They ignored the traditional way," Duncan said.
An election board appointed by the Business Committee will determine the validity of the petitions, Baker said. The council has agreed to appoint opposition members to the board, he said.
The petition drive not withstanding, three of the committee members are up for re-election in April, including Business Committee Chairman Lester Chapoose.
"Even if these petitions go on for months, we'll still be installing three new council members in April," Duncan said.
The Concerned Tribal Members raised grievances against the council at the Jan. 10 meeting, including alleged misuse of tribal funds, education and law and order problems, 85 percent unemployment on the reservation and a recent law exempting the Business Committee from tribal court jurisdiction.
Chapoose denies the allegations, saying the council has little access to tribal funds and the new law is within the provisions of the tribe's Constitution.
Duncan charged the council has become too powerful and unresponsive to the Ute tribe's needs.
"We want to give the power back to the people where it belongs," he said.
Should the opposition be successful in seating its own members on the council, Duncan said there would be efforts made to amend the constitution to limit the powers of the Business Committee.
"Amending the constitution here and there, yes, that is our intent," he said.
"With a new tribal council we can get together with the people and let the people decide what to do, not the tribal council itself because it's very dangerous and they've shown what they can do."
The Business Committee currently consists of Chapoose, Gary Poowegup, Stewart Pike, Maxine Natchees, Irene Cuch and Wilford Coneta.