The Bureau of Indian Affairs is supporting the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council's decision earlier this month to remove the tribe's president, who still maintains the controversial vote violated a tribal court decision.

In a letter to the council, the BIA's Northern Cheyenne Reservation Superintendent, Michael Addy, officially recognized the council's 9-1 vote to remove former President Jace Killsback on Oct. 5.

It’s unclear how much weight the BIA’s position will ultimately lend to the dispute. Killsback has vowed to continue fighting what he considers an “illegal” removal hearing in the tribe’s court system. A BIA spokeswoman provided a copy of Addy’s letter Tuesday, but did not respond to emailed questions.

The latest letter comes a week after he informed the council he had not received the required paperwork to determine whether the vote conformed to the tribe's constitution. In response, the council provided a “legal opinion” to the BIA on Friday, Addy wrote, which outlined the council’s authority to remove Killsback.

The letter "removes any doubt concerning the correctness of the Tribe's position,” the council stated in a press release issued Monday evening. The council's sergeant-at-arms, who acts as the spokesman for the governmental body, did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

"Pursuant to the Tribe's Constitution, Vice President Conrad (Fisher) shall serve as interim president until a special election can be held," the release states.

But Killsback and his attorney, Bryan Newland, maintained that the vote was illegal and went against a judgment by the Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Court the day before. The judgment stated that the initial complaint against Killsback had failed to meet constitutional muster.

"I'm still pursuing the avenue through the constitutional court, based on the original ruling they had," Killsback said Tuesday. "That's really all I'm going by, is the constitutional court."

They also questioned what they see as the BIA unnecessarily injecting itself into the tribe's internal affairs as a sovereign nation.

“It’s very unusual for the BIA to get involved in these types of disputes,” Newland said. “They typically defer to tribal court decisions in these types of cases.”

He accused the federal agency of declining to give Killsback an opportunity to respond to the documentation provided by the council.

The council has insisted it filed an amended complaint that resolved the court's issues before the hearing, but has declined to make it publicly available. Killsback and his attorney repeated on Tuesday that they never received the amended complaint, and maintained that the court's initial ruling stands.

In his letter, Addy states that the council "has remedied the deficiencies identified by the Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Court."

"All Tribal programs that receive federal funding will continue to receive funding and conduct business under the successor to the office of the President," Addy wrote.

Killsback plans to file a motion sometime this week asking the constitutional court to rule on whether the vote was in fact illegal, Newland said.


Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.