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Northern Arapaho citizens' vote could authorize recall election of tribe's chairman

Northern Arapaho citizens' vote could authorize recall election of tribe's chairman

Northern Arapaho

Bison trot out onto a pasture in November 2016 on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Morton. Northern Arapaho tribal members will vote Saturday on whether to hold a recall election for business council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter, among other resolutions.

Northern Arapaho tribal members will have a chance to determine the tribe’s actions — and the future of its tribal chairman — this weekend amid decisions their leaders have made regarding casino operations and the employment of longtime advisers.

Citizens of the Northern Arapaho Tribe will vote on a resolution during a General Council meeting that, if passed, would trigger a recall election of the tribe’s business council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter. He was reelected less than a year ago.

The council will also vote on resolutions to ban “in perpetuity” its former law firm, Lander-based Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd; former lobbyist Mark Howell; and former casino CEO Jim Conrad. Additionally, the tribe will vote on a separate resolution to fire its new law firm, Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

The tribe’s General Council includes all of its voting-age members and has oversight of tribal issues and its business council. The council is made up of six elected members and is in charge of day-to-day decision-making.

To take a vote, a quorum of 150 tribal members must be present by 10:30 a.m. A simple majority is needed to pass the resolution.

Northern Arapaho leaders, former casino managers accuse law firm of hostile takeover

The meeting comes as the business council — which strives to act unanimously — has been divided the last several months over the management of the tribe’s gambling enterprise and the employment of longtime advisers. Saturday’s votes will signal whether a majority of the tribe’s citizens support those decisions.

Those moves by the business council, and their reasons for them, have led to lawsuits and countersuits; a public meeting for tribe members, where some business council members criticized the actions of former advisers and the casino’s former CEO; denials of wrongdoing by the accused; and now multiple General Council resolutions for the tribe’s citizens to consider.

Spoonhunter, in an emailed statement, said the recall effort is an attempt to divide the Northern Arapaho people.

“Tribal members elected this Council to restore our sovereignty and reclaim control of tribal finances, which we’ve recently discovered were too often squandered in recent years as outside interests lined their pockets at our expense,” he said. “Those days are over, but those same folks have not given up and this resolution is just another way they try to cling to our dollars. I am committed, along with the majority of this Council, to get our fiscal house in order so that tribal revenues benefit tribal members.”

Tribal leaders knew of anti-regulatory lobbying effort, documents and 2 council members say

But Faith Wallowing Bull, the casino’s former chief financial officer, who submitted the recall resolution and the Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton resolution, said her main reason for wanting to see a recall election was Spoonhunter’s conduct in office, which she says has included threats and sexual harassment of a female casino employee.

Spoonhunter, according to documents obtained by the Star-Tribune and included in a recently filed lawsuit, admitted to harassing and threatening the employee and apologized for his actions.

Wallowing Bull said an apology does not excuse his behavior and that his actions contradict his statements of wanting to protect the tribe.

“There’s this movement across Indian Country where Native women should be protected,” she said.

Wallowing Bull — along with former casino human resources manager Rosella Morin and business council members Anthony “Al” Addison and Samuel Dresser — has also sued the tribe’s new law firm, accusing it of improperly interfering in tribal affairs under the guise of protecting its sovereignty and overseeing the retaliatory firing of Wallowing Bull and Morin.

The two former managers say they were fired for no reason and falsely told they were at-will employees. In the lawsuit they say they were fired because Wallowing Bull resisted attempts to pay for “sponsorships” to “individual groups” with casino money — which she believed would violate federal tribal gaming regulations — and because Morin reported the harassment case to the tribe’s human resources director and other business council members.

The firm has previously denied the allegations and denied them again during Monday’s public meeting.

Northern Arapaho suit against former law firm illustrates tribal leadership divide

In a move endorsed by four of its six members, the business council sued its old law firm last week for allegedly refusing to return the tribe’s own legal documents, keeping some tribal trust money, not providing an accounting of any tribal money that’s been held by the firm and failing to explain legal bills that the tribe called excessive.

The old law firm has denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying it has returned all of the tribe’s money and has provided billing statements in the past in accordance with business council direction.

The Lander-based firm did admit to not returning many of the tribe’s legal documents but said that was because it is obligated to keep them until the new law firm has adequately addressed conflicts of interest.

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton representatives have previously called the concerns illegitimate and said the old firm must return the tribe’s documents despite their concerns.

The Atlanta-based firm and the majority of the business council have alleged that the old law firm, Conrad and Howell — none of whom are tribal members — have exploited the tribe financially, especially leading up to Conrad’s contract expiring, with high legal bills, unexplained costs and spending, and the unnecessary purchase of new casino equipment before Conrad left.

Business council member Stephen Fast Horse said it’s unfortunate that the tribe and business council have to focus on these issues because there are more important social and economic problems they could be trying to fix.

Aldora White Eagle, the tribe’s CEO, said Wallowing Bull has the right to bring her concerns to the people. But she and Fast Horse said they believe Wallowing Bull is putting her interests over the tribe’s, calling her a “disgruntled former employee.”

White Eagle said she supports Spoonhunter and feels like a majority of Northern Arapaho citizens support him and the decisions he and a majority of the business council have made. Those decisions have all been to protect the tribe’s sovereignty, she said.

“We’ll know Saturday what our people think,” White Eagle said.

Wallowing Bull said claims that she’s a bitter former employee are wrong. She said she has always wanted — even after leaving the reservation to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree — to help the tribe, which is why she is speaking up about what she sees as wrong and came back to work for the tribe’s casinos.

“I don’t have anything to gain by lying or covering up,” Wallowing Bull said. “It’s about trying to save the tribe and casino.”

Follow reporter Chris Aadland on Twitter @cjaadland


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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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