CROW AGENCY - After a short standoff Tuesday, the keys to the tribal chairman's office were turned over to a new leader.
Carl Venne, 56, was sworn in as the new chairman of the Crow Tribe during a brief ceremony on the front steps of the tribal headquarters building.
"I'm here today to serve all of you," Venne told a crowd of about 200 supporters.
Venne is the third person to call himself chairman since September, when Clifford Birdinground resigned after pleading guilty in federal court to bribery charges. Birdinground's vice chairman, Vincent Goes Ahead Jr., took charge after the resignation and ran an unsuccessful campaign to hold onto the tribe's top position.
Venne beat Goes Ahead 1,589 votes to 1,481 in Saturday's special election.
The new leader was not inaugurated without a struggle. According to various witnesses, Venne and Goes Ahead clashed over the date and time of the changeover. By 9 a.m. dozens of Venne's supporters were parked across from tribal headquarters in a show of support. By early afternoon, police officers were posted in and around the building.
Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Chief Darren Cruzan refused to discuss the situation. One of Venne's supporters, Faron Iron, said "delay tactics" caused the standoff. By 2:30 p.m., however, Venne and Goes Ahead were standing side by side for the inauguration.
"We can't be divided," Venne told the crowd after he was sworn in. His brief remarks were delivered in Crow and English and were greeted with shouts and ululation.
Goes Ahead, who was elected in 2000, will remain vice-chairman. The term for all executive officers of the tribe lasts until 2004.
Goes Ahead offered his hand to Venne. "The better man won," Goes Ahead said. "We place our trust in the new chairman, and we'll all work together."
Current Tribal Secretary Larny Little Owl and Vice-Secretary Hubert Two Leggins will also remain in their positions. The two stood near the chairman and wore baseball caps emblazoned the name and logo of Bill Barrett Corp. The Denver-based company recently signed a contract tribal officials to drill coalbed methane wells on the reservation.
Venne said he opposes the deal because it does not provide enough revenue to the tribe.
After the brief ceremony Venne said his first task will be to sort through tribal finances. When this is completed, Venne said he will make decisions on which programs and reforms to pursue. One of his first priorities, though, is to reopen the tribe's Multi-purpose building for free activities for young people.
Venne is an administrator at Little Big Horn Community College. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1969 and has a background in education and law enforcement.