The twice-removed president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, who won re-election in January, is back in office.
L. Jace Killsback resumed his post as the tribe's top official following a Feb. 15 order by Tribal Judge D. Michael Feakin allowing him to return to office.
After being removed by the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council in October 2017, Killsback won back his seat by a razor-thin margin in a Jan. 3 special election. His opponent, Donna Fisher, filed a lawsuit challenging the election outcome.
The initial judge presiding over the case, John Robinson, subsequently issued a stay on Killsback's inauguration and an order barring him from the tribe’s administrative offices in Lame Deer.
Robinson, however, last week recused himself after Killsback filed a motion challenging his impartiality. Robinson had expressed support for Fisher on his Facebook page during the run-up to the special election, sharing the candidate's posts that urged voters to select her as the tribe's next president.
In his Feb. 14 recusal, Robinson made no mention of his social media activity, instead citing "a friendship and amiable, but professional, working relationship with Jackie Tang," Killsback's mother.
Feakin, an Indian law attorney and a partner at the 406 Law firm in Billings, has now taken over the case, issuing an order the next day that vacated all of Robinson's previous orders and setting a new hearing schedule. A pretrial conference to determine the facts of the case is scheduled for Thursday.
Earlier this week, Killsback told The Gazette the tribal council had been refusing to recognize the latest order or send him legislation to sign into law.
"I'm here, I'm doing my job, what I can," Killsback said. "That takes, again, collaboration with the council, and we need them to collaborate so we can move forward."
On Wednesday, he said the two parties had brokered a compromise under the condition that he hold a new swearing-in ceremony that afternoon.
Councilman Benji Headswift, who serves as the council's spokesman, did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
Killsback said he hopes to work with the council to approve a request for emergency funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow the tribe to continue snow removal on the reservation, which has been hit with substantial snowfall in recent weeks.
"It may be a state of emergency for our tribal members who live outside town, who have no access to services," Killsback said. "We're trying to get elders out for all the services they need, medical needs, dialysis, they're the ones who are needing the help right now. Our resources are limited."
Killsback, who formerly served on the council, was first elected president in November 2016.
The council has maintained it removed Killsback after he failed to perform his duties as president last year and has alleged that he was behind an anonymous smear campaign that targeted council members. The council has also claimed, without providing evidence, that Killsback mismanaged and potentially stole thousands of dollars from a tribal company he chaired.
Killsback has denied the allegations and says the claims are retribution for his investigation into a tribal employee's handling of funds.