LAME DEER — The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council on Friday voted to remove the tribe’s president from office, but the reservation’s top elected official has refused to recognize the resolution and says the vote violated a tribal court ruling from the day before.
By a vote of 9-1, the council concurred with a recommendation from Ronald Bigback Sr., a tribal elder who served as the hearing officer during the special meeting Friday morning, to remove President Jace Killsback.
The hearing stemmed from a formal complaint against Killsback filed by Councilman Dana Eaglefeathers last month, alleging “gross neglect” of his duties as president and arguing he had violated the tribe’s bylaws.
A former councilman himself, who was elected president in November 2016, Killsback was not present during Friday’s hearing. In a letter to the council sent the day before, he called the planned proceedings “unlawful” and in conflict with a decision by the Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Court.
During the Friday hearing, Bigback said, "I believe that Mr. Killsback had adequate time to prepare for this. This is an important event. This is an important meeting. He should be here in person. That, to me, is just not caring. It is just neglect.”
Referring to an alleged smear campaign that council members say Killsback conducted through an anonymous Facebook account, Councilman Waylon Rogers became emotional before casting his vote, appearing to fight back tears as he explained his decision in favor of removal.
“I looked for leadership from Jace. You were my friend since I was a kid,” Rogers said. “I was the last one here trying to say, ‘Let’s work this out.’ But instead I heard justification … That’s not a leader.”
Killsback has denied the council’s allegations. Seated in his office after the vote, he insisted that the hearing was procedurally flawed.
“Right now, (the court) has decided, as the law of the land, that the complaint is defective,” Killsback said. “Essentially, what the council did was violate the constitution.”
On Thursday, the tribe’s Constitutional Court sided with Killsback, declaring Eaglefeathers’ complaint against him “constitutionally defective,” because it was not sworn to under oath, and because it did not include enough detail to give the president “adequate notice of the allegations” against him.
Later that day, Eaglefeathers’s attorney, Robert McLean, filed an amended complaint including a sworn statement and a list of allegations against Killsback, which he said satisfies those deficiencies. Killsback said the amended complaint did not provide him enough time to respond to the allegations.
In a separate ruling also issued Thursday, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Court Judge John J. Robinson denied Killsback’s request for a temporary restraining order, ruling that Killsback’s own filing also failed to include a sworn affidavit.
Under the laws governing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Killsback’s office would be filled by Vice President Conrad Fisher until a special election can be held to elect a new president. Also a member of the Tribal Council, Fisher had recused himself from the removal hearing.
“As far as I’m concerned, the removal decision is in effect immediately,” Councilman Benji Headswift said after the vote. He added, “The council made their decision, and we look forward to better days.”
After the vote, however, Killsback said he has no intention of recognizing the hearing, referring to the Constitutional Court’s decision.
It was unclear Friday whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs will recognize the council’s vote, or side with Killsback’s assertion that the hearing was indeed unconstitutional. A receptionist for the bureau’s Rocky Mountain Regional Director, Darryl LaCounte, directed inquiries to BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling.
Darling did not respond to emailed questions sent by The Billings Gazette on Friday morning, and follow-up phone calls to her office were not returned.
Tribal police under the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs met privately with council members later Friday morning, but declined to comment.
In July 2013, a tribal council voted to remove then-tribal president John Robinson. That vote came while Robinson was hospitalized in another city after an emergency operation.
Robinson was criticized for firing the head of a center for abused children who had been accused of child abuse. After voting to remove Robinson, the council voted to reinstate the head of the child center.