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Jourdain retains chairmanship; Red Lake Election Board ruling overturned

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

RED LAKE -- Citing hearsay evidence, lack of general election board authority to call for a runoff and the need to move on and focus on tribal needs, the Red Lake Tribal Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to certify Chairman-elect Floyd "Buck" Jourdain as the winner of the July 19 election.

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Following three hours of testimony from tribal members in the Humanities Center filled to capacity, Hereditary Chief James Loud swore Jourdain in as chairman for the next four years.

Jourdain in turn swore in Secretary Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu, who displayed the golden eagle feather headdress that was a gift to her from her uncle, the late Chairman Roger Jourdain. Also sworn in were district representatives Donald Desjarlait of Red Lake, Gary Nelson of Ponemah, Tom Westbrook of Redby and William Greene of Little Rock.

The inauguration feast will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday.

Jourdain won the election with 1,724 votes to former Red Lake Nation Secretary Judy Roy's 1,653. He ran as the incumbent as he served the last two years of the late Chairman Gerald Brun's term. Brun died while he was in office.

The election board certified the results of the chairman, secretary and district representative elections on July 20. On July 25, Archie King challenged the certification, alleging that Jourdain had violated election law. On July 28, the Red Lake General Election Board accepted the allegations that Jourdain had chartered a bus to bring tribal members from Duluth to Red Lake, had provided them free food at tribal expense and put them up in the Seven Clans Casino in Thief River Falls. The board also accepted affidavits that Jourdain paid voters between $40 and $100 for their votes.

As a result, the election board ordered the Tribal Council to set a new runoff election between Jourdain and Roy.

"My race has been disputed by a tribal member," Jourdain said. He denied the allegations several times during the lengthy discussion. "I violated none of the election ordinances."

He specifically refuted the allegation that he bought votes, and persistent rumors and claims that he is connected to drug dealers on the reservation.

However, attorney Tom Peckham, of the New Mexico Nordhaus Law Firm, specialists in American Indian law, noted that there is no tribal ordinance against buying votes. Tribal members attending the Tribal Council meeting in the Red Lake Humanities Center also spoke on the issue. Several said buying votes was normal in tribal elections, as was feeding voters and providing transportation to the polls.

Peckham said he could give his interpretation of the Red Lake Constitution and election code, but it is up to the Tribal Council as elected leaders of a sovereign nation to make the final interpretation and ruling on their own laws.

"This is your law," Peckham said. "This is your constitution. You have to decide what it means. What your law means is up to you."

However, he said the election ordinance provides for any voting member to lodge a complaint, and the election board is obliged to consider and rule on the challenge. He said the ordinance gives the election board the authority to call for a runoff only in the case of a tie.

Peckham also noted that Jourdain had not had the opportunity to confront his accusers or see the evidence on which the election board members based their decision. He said there wasn't any evidence Jourdain was connected with the bus charter and that one of the affidavits alleging vote buying were from someone saying another person took money for his vote.

"In the law, that's hearsay," Peckham said.

He suggested giving the election board time to do more investigation. He also urged the members to focus on the process, not on individuals.

"What we're searching for here is a peaceful and orderly way through," Peckham said. "If a runoff election goes forward, it puts the band through another period of uncertainty."

King rose at Jourdain's request to explain the allegations and his evidence. King said he stands by the accusations, and he would have produced more affidavits of election violations if he had had more time.

"I didn't come here to defend myself because I did nothing wrong," Jourdain responded. "The burden of proof is on you."

In regard to the bus from Duluth, Michael Sayers of Red Lake's Duluth Urban Office said he requisitioned it, and had done the same for the last two elections, so that tribal members living in Duluth could come to the reservation to vote. The urban offices operate independently with their own budgets, Sayers said. There is no Red Lake polling place in Duluth, as there is in the Twin Cities.

"The bus was not only for Buck supporters," Sayers said. "There were quite a few Judy supporters, too."

Several tribal members took the opportunity to speak, some siding with Jourdain, others backing Roy. Keith Lussier voiced the frustration of many. He said the election dispute was taking the focus off important issues such as the challenge to the Red Lake Nation over ownership of the lake.

Roy stepped away from the council table to speak, saying she would soon be handing over her secretarial duties to Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu. Roy acknowledged that the dispute was hurtful, but she said she also saw it as a healthy sign that so many members are concerned about the way tribal elections are conducted.

She congratulated Beaulieu and the other elected officials and expressed regret that the dispute marred what should be a joyful time for them.

However, she also issued grave warnings about the condition of Red Lake membership as a whole, whether the drug culture was overtaking the traditional Anishinaabe culture and the need to turn away from lawlessness.

As for the lack of a law making vote buying illegal, she asked why a law prohibiting lying and cheating should be necessary.

After cutting off comments from the membership, Jourdain turned to the Tribal Council and hereditary chiefs for discussion. The hereditary chiefs agreed that moving ahead, backing the council and chairman and restoring unity is the right way to go. Some said they agreed with the attorney that the election board doesn't have the authority to call a new election and others said they saw no evidence for the allegations. Some said they want the investigation of the allegations to continue in order to clear the air.

"It would also help this chairman move forward," said Representative Allen Pemberton.

Roy asked the motions be divided so that council members could vote to certify the secretary and representatives, whose elections are not in question, from the chairman certification.

However, Donald May made the motion to certify all candidates, with Donald Desjarlait voicing the second. There was no further discussion and Jourdain called for a show of hands vote.

May, Desjarlait, Pemberton, Glenda Martin, Clifford Hardy, Richard Barrett and Darrell Seki voted for certification. Greene and Julius Thunder voted no. Roy abstained.

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