A presidential inauguration took place on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation on Monday, but the question of who will ultimately assume the tribe’s top elected position remains undecided.
By a razor-thin margin, Jace Killsback won a majority of the votes in the tribe’s Jan. 2 special election to fill a vacancy created when the tribal council removed him as the tribe’s president three months earlier.
The runner-up, former tribal councilwoman Donna Fisher, has challenged the election’s outcome, alleging that when the council set the 88-day election schedule it failed to account for two federal holidays and three additional days in which tribal offices were closed.
Fisher is asking a tribal judge to declare the election void and order a new election be held. A Jan. 26 hearing has been set before trial judge John Robinson to rule on Fisher’s complaint.
A phone call to Fisher’s residence Thursday morning was answered by a woman who identified herself as Fisher’s daughter. She said that Fisher was barred from speaking to the media, due to her position as a federal government employee, before hanging up the phone.
On Monday, Killsback was nonetheless sworn into office after interim President Conrad Fisher’s office set a Jan. 15 inauguration date. Tribal Councilman Dana Eaglefeathers on Thursday said that swearing-in ceremony was illegal, noting that Robinson had issued a restraining order staying the inauguration the Friday before.
“The important issue is that there was a court-issued order by the tribal court and that was effective immediately,” Eaglefeathers said. “All parties were aware of the court order, the notary (who swore Killsback into office) was aware of the court order, so at this point the tribal council is not recognizing Jace Killsback as the tribal president. He’s the president-elect, and we’re going to honor whatever Judge Robinson decides.”
Killsback said Thursday that he was not served with the order prior to his inauguration.
Robinson issued a second order Tuesday, declaring the inauguration invalid and requiring Killsback to vacate the president’s office. Killsback said he plans to contest that order as well as Donna Fisher’s complaint.
He said he also plans to request a new judge in the hearing, pointing to several Facebook posts on Robinson’s personal Facebook page in which he offered support for Fisher prior to the election.
Robinson previously served as the tribe's president before he was removed from office by the tribal council, on which Killsback served at the time.
“He was a vocal and public supporter of my opponent during the election,” Killsback said. But he added, “I will continue to move forward, and I will respect the judge’s order to vacate the building.”
Killsback has maintained that the council’s 8-1 vote to remove him from office last October was improper. The council’s decision was based on allegations that Killsback misused money and slandered individual members of the council using a fake Facebook account. Killsback has denied those allegations.