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Northern Cheyenne Tribe's president to resign, citing obstruction from tribal council

Northern Cheyenne Tribe's president to resign, citing obstruction from tribal council

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Former Northern Cheyenne Chairman Lawrence "Jace" Killsback.

The President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe said he is resigning, citing “obstacles and opposition at every step by the legislative branch” of the tribal government.

L. Jace Killsback will resign effective Friday, according to a statement released Tuesday.

His announcement caps a tumultuous two years as the tribe’s top elected official in which he was removed from office by the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council, only to win re-election two months later and be the subject of a challenge by the runner-up in the special election.

In the nine months since he resumed his post in January, Killsback has said he has watched the tribal council — the Northern Cheyenne government’s legislative branch — encroach on duties reserved by the executive branch in the tribe’s constitution.

In August, Northern Cheyenne Vice President Conrad Fisher also announced his intention to resign this November, citing health issues and professional challenges. 

The tribe’s constitution provides for presidential vacancies to be filled by a special election, with the vice president serving as interim president until a special election is held. It’s unclear whether a new president will be elected prior to Fisher’s departure, but if not, the constitution calls for the tribal council to appoint an acting president “from within its own number.”

Killsback has been at odds with the tribal council since early in his presidency. He was elected in November 2016 and took office later that month.

In October 2017, the council voted to remove Killsback, citing a formal complaint filed by Councilman Dana Eaglefeathers that alleged “gross neglect” of his duties as president and arguing he had violated the tribe’s bylaws, although the council did not publicly provide any further details.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs endorsed the council’s action, and a special presidential election was held Jan. 3. Killsback narrowly won re-election to the seat, by a 2-vote margin over his opponent, Donna Fisher.

That same day, the tribal council released a statement accusing Killsback of improperly transferring thousands of dollars’ worth of funding from a tribally-owned company.

Fisher then filed a lawsuit in tribal court challenging the propriety of election procedures leading up to the vote, and judge 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, recused himself after Killsback filed a motion challenging the judge’s impartiality in the case. The judge had previously voiced support on social media for Fisher during the run-up to the election. A second judge then vacated Robinson’s previous orders and allowed Killsback to resume the presidency in February.

In the months since, Killsback has said the council has refused to work with his office and has essentially usurped many functions delegated to the executive branch, including personnel decisions and distribution of tribal funds.

“Over the past 12 months the president’s office has endured an unprecedented amount of infringement on the executive branch’s authority,” Killsback stated in his resignation letter, accusing the council of executing tribal contracts without following the tribe’s constitution, spending funds without following proper budget processes and “inserting themselves” into other administrative functions.

A tribal council spokesman did not immediately return phone messages.

Killsback added in his release that he hopes the tribal government will be more unified moving forward.

“By stepping aside, it is my hope that the tribal government can come together to work in a meaningful manner to address the needs of the Northern Cheyenne people,” he wrote, adding, “The Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s governmental branches should not act as adversaries where the goal and objective is to seek victory over one branch or where there must be a winner and a loser.”

Killsback did not respond to phone messages seeking further comment on the resignation.


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Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.

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