Ute tribal dissidents said this week they now have enough signatures in a petition drive that, if successful, would result in the ouster of five of six of the Uintah Basin tribe's ruling Business Committee.
The petition drive comes in the wake of a Jan. 10 meeting between the Business Committee and a group of Utes calling themselves Concerned Tribal Members, during which the council was ousted by a vote of 119 to 5.The council remains in office, maintaining the vote was unconstitutional. Concerned Tribal Members disagrees, saying the vote was a "traditional" act and the Ute Constitution requires the council to uphold tradition.
But the group started a petition process for a recall election anyway, as required by the Constitution. Opposition leader Larry Cespooch said the group now has gathered enough signatures to prompt a recall election.
"The action we took January 10 was in our opinion the traditional means of conducting that kind of action (a recall vote)," Cespooch said. But because the council remains in office, "we've had to go the other route, which is door to door petitions."
Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent Perry Baker said the petitions must be validated by an election board appointed by the Business Committee. The council agreed to appoint dissidents to the board, he said.
Cespooch was unsure how many signatures had been collected but said 30 percent of the three bands on the 3,000-member Uintah-Ouray Reservation - the Uncompahgre, White River and Uintah - had signed.
If the signatures are accepted, the next step is to hold an official recall election with ballot officials and formal polling places, Baker said.
At the Jan. 10 meeting, the dissidents presented the Business Committee with a list of grievances alleging wrongdoing. But Cespooch said Monday the group's dissatisfaction was broader.
"This is not a grievance movement. What this movement really is, is a movement for change and update," he said.
Many of the dissidents are young Utes, he said. "Most of the energy behind this is the younger generation. It's that younger voice talking, and for the most part, we're saying that it can be better."
A tribal spokesman did not return phone calls by press time Monday.
The targets of the petition drive include Business Committee members Gary Poowegup, Maxine Natchees, Irene Cuch, Wilford Coneta and Chairman Lester Cahpoose. Stewart Pike, also a council member, was ousted in the Jan. 10 vote but is not subject to the current drive.