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Wind River Reservation

The Wind River runs along the boundaries of Riverton in October 2016. In a vote Saturday, the Northern Arapaho Tribe's General Council struck down a resolution to hold a recall election for business council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter.

Members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe overwhelmingly voted on Saturday to ensure its chairman stays in office.

The tribal citizens’ votes at a Saturday General Council meeting reflected their opinions on a number of decisions the majority of the Northern Arapaho Business Council has made in recent months regarding casino operations; the employment of longtime advisers, lawyers and its casino boss — all non-tribal members; and the conduct of Chairman Lee Spoonhunter.

“Today, the people spoke. Our Tribe and our Ancestors are proud because this was tribal sovereignty in action. We thank our community for showing up to stand up for our Tribe,” Spoonhunter said in a statement. “Unfortunately, some of the Council didn’t like that, but this is a democracy and we respect the will of the people.”

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

Among the topics on Saturday’s General Council agenda was a resolution that would have triggered a recall election of Spoonhunter if passed. That resolution failed 38 to 204.

The resolution’s sponsor said she wanted to see Spoonhunter removed for conduct that is contradictory to how a tribal leader should act, including harassment and threats of physical violence he admitted to.

Another resolution to fire the tribe’s current law firm, Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, also failed 16 to 196.

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 2, the firm allegedly improperly influenced a majority of the business council and tribal affairs, in addition to overseeing the wrongful firing of two casino managers. The firm has denied any wrongdoing.

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

The General Council also unanimously voted to ban “in perpetuity” former law firm Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd of Lander; former lobbyist Mark Howell; and former casino CEO Jim Conrad from working for the tribe amid allegations of acting without approval, questionable spending and other actions — allegations they have all denied.

Comprised of every Northern Arapaho Tribe citizen of voting age, the General Council is the supreme governing body of the tribe. The Business Council is made up of six elected members who make day-to-day decisions for the tribe.

Saturday’s meeting required 150 members to make a quorum.

Leading up to the votes, the tribe — in a move endorsed by four of the six business council members — sued its former law firm July 29. The tribe claimed the firm excessively billed the tribe and has refused to return legal documents and tribal money the firm possessed.

Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd denied the allegations, saying it has returned all tribal money, has provided billing information as requested by the business council and hasn’t returned some documents because the tribe’s new lawyers haven’t fulfilled their obligations to address conflicts of interest — allegations the new firm has denied. The Star-Tribune has also obtained documents raising questions about the tribe’s allegations against the Lander-based firm.

Northern Arapaho suit against former law firm illustrates tribal leadership divide

Then, business council members Anthony “Al” Addison and Samuel Dresser and tribal citizens and former casino managers Faith Wallowing Bull and Rosella Moring sued Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

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Wallowing Bull, the former casino chief financial officer, sponsored the resolutions for a recall election of Spoonhunter and firing Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. 

Despite the divide between some on the business council, member Stephen Fast Horse said Saturday’s vote proved that a majority of the tribe is united.

“Today we showed it in numbers,” he said in an emailed statement. “Our community stands behind the direction the Business Council has taken and reasserted our sovereignty as Arapahos.”

A spokesman also emailed statements supporting the General Council's decisions and echoing Spoonhunter and Fast Horse's comments from Business Council members Clarinda Calling Thunder and Kim Harjo. 

Wallowing Bull said she was disappointed with the outcome, but also said she felt it was unfairly conducted at times. 

For example, she said she wasn't allowed to read the sexual harassment and threats complaint against Spoonhunter to those at the meeting, and that the vote for the Spoonhunter resolution was done publicly — not as a secret ballot — so those in attendance could see how others voted.

Wallowing Bull said that could have discouraged some from voting for her resolution to avoid being publicly noted for having voted against Spoonhunter.  

Since her resolutions were unsuccessful, Wallowing Bull said for now she'll just wait "to see how these lawsuits turn out."

"My main goal was to inform the public of the facts," she said. "Whether or not people believe them, that's up to them."

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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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