Red Lake chairman faces accusations in election disputeby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
The Red Lake Indian Reservation's Tribal Council meets Tuesday to decide the fate of the tribe's highest office. A tribal member has challenged the results of a July election, in which Chairman Buck Jourdain narrowly defeated challenger Judy Roy, the tribe's secretary.
A tribal election board has called for a new election. The board accepted allegations that Jourdain attempted to buy votes and misused tribal funds for campaign purposes. Buck Jourdain denies the allegations. He says it's an unfair attempt to steal the election. The uncertainty of what will happen next has many tribal members feeling uneasy.
Red Lake Reservation — Tribal members come and go outside Red Lake's IGA grocery store. Many say the latest election controversy is the talk of the reservation. But few are willing to talk publicly. This man doesn't want to be identified by name, but says he supports Chairman Buck Jourdain.
"I just think people are digging up dirt and stuff on our chairman, so I don't know. I don't think there should be another election," he said.
Another tribal member says she supports Tribal Secretary Judy Roy. This woman doesn't want to be identified either, but she says a new election is a good idea.
"That's the right thing to do," she said. "Whoever was in there should have been checked over, made sure everything was right."
The election challenge alleges Jourdain attempted to buy votes for anywhere from $40 to $100. It also alleges that a bus paid for with tribal funds was used to transport Jourdain supporters from Duluth to the on-reservation polls, and that Jourdain gave complimentary rooms at the tribe's Seven Clans Casino Hotel without authorization.
Jourdain calls the allegations untrue, unfounded and ridiculous. He says he'll respond to the charges at the council meeting Tuesday. Jourdain says he believes the charges were fabricated.
"The people on the reservation here have seen a hellacious assault on my character, on my campaign committee and just the sheer amount of destruction to my campaign property," said Jourdain. "There are people out there who have tried to paint me as this criminal and resisted my leadership."
Jourdain says the election board overstepped its legal authority when it called for a new election. He'll ask the tribal council to rescind that ruling.
It's open to interpretation just how much authority the election board has. While the tribe's election laws give the board final authority on voting disputes, it isn't clear whether that includes calling for a new election.
Tribal Secretary Judy Roy won the popular vote with on-reservation voters. But when absentee ballots and votes from the Twin Cities were counted, Jourdain won the election by a 69-vote margin.
Roy says she supports the election board's ruling. She says the tribe's election laws give the board the power to call a new election if it decides it's warranted.
"Their decision is final, as is spelled out very strongly in the ordinance," said Roy. "This is a function that the tribal council delegated to the election board by law, by our own law. And our tribal council is obligated to uphold the laws of the band."
This isn't the first time Buck Jourdain has faced accusations of wrongdoing. The Native American Press/Ojibwe News newspaper has published letters, stories and editorials asserting that Jourdain is supported by drug dealers, or that Jourdain himself is somehow involved in the drug trade.
The paper, published by tribal member Bill Lawrence, has a reputation for attacking tribal leadership. Lawrence could not be reached for comment for this story.
Jourdain says the drug allegations and the latest attacks are pure propaganda. He says it's a pattern to discredit him and his administration.
"We are not drug dealers," said Jourdain. "I have law enforcement officers, teachers, councilors, students, elders, professional people in the community, health care professionals. These are people who voted in my campaign. Are these people all drug dealers? It's ludicrous."
Judy Roy declined to comment on the drug rumors or specifics of the vote-buying charges. She says people on the reservation are tired of the controversy and just want things to be done right.
"I think there's a certain weariness, that people want this to be over with," Roy said. "I think there's a certain anger that people feel that if there was wrongdoing, that it shouldn't be allowed to go by."
The tribal member who contested the election, Archie King, did not return several phone calls for this story. Calls to election board chairwoman Sue Antone also were not returned.
A new tribal secretary and several new council members will be sworn in at Tuesday's tribal council meeting. It's unclear whether Buck Jourdain will be sworn into office before he responds to the charges against him.
- All Things Considered, 08/07/2006, 5:20 p.m.