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White Earth Tribe secretary-treasurer exonerated

White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason, left, celebrates with District II Representative Kathy Goodwin after the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Tribal Executive Committee exonerated Mason during a censure meeting Nov. 22 at the Shooting Star Event Center in Mahnomen. Submitted photo.

WHITE EARTH, Minn.—White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason is off the hook.

An attempt by White Earth Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts to censure her fell flat Wednesday, when the Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Executive Committee voted 3-1 to exonerate her, determining that Mason did not violate provisions of the MCT Constitution.

Tibbetts cast the only vote in favor of censure. Six TEC members voted "silent," which essentially means they abstained from voting.

The vote brings to an end the drama that started Oct. 12 when Tibbetts laid the charges on Mason at a TEC meeting at the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Tibbetts charged that Mason undermined and overruled the Tribal Executive Committee's constitutional convention process; took action to pursue the construction of the Star Lake Casino; took actions related to the construction of the Bagley Casino; engaged in abuse and interference with tribal courts; and rescinded separation of power clauses related to courts, allegedly giving her authority over court decisions.

No evidence was presented to support the charges, and Mason refuted them one at a time over the seven-hour meeting Wednesday at the packed Shooting Star Event Center.

For example, she submitted meeting minutes from the Tribal Council and Tribal Gaming Commission meetings to show that ongoing expenses for the Bagley and Star Lake casino projects had been approved by those panels when budgets were approved.

"Any business conducted was conducted by the body, not by me alone out signing contracts or something," she said.

The Bagley and Star Lake projects started before she joined the Tribal Council, and after Tibbetts was elected chairman, Mason tried to work with the council and get feedback on where the tribe wanted to go with the Star Lake project, but couldn't get a clear answer, according to emails she presented.

"Where is the evidence that I alone pursued construction of a casino on Star Lake?" she asked.

On the first charge, that Mason had undermined and overruled the Tribal Executive Committee's constitutional convention process (by discouraging attendance by the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona) she showed that the White Earth Tribal Council had acted as a body and she had not acted alone.

"I never instructed, asked or told NNI or NGR (the St. Paul-based nonprofit Native Governance Center) that they could not be at the constitutional meeting," she said Wednesday.

She called several witnesses, including Marvin Manypenny and Ray Bellcourt, who were at the constitutional meeting in question and agreed that White Earth members were willing to work with the native nation-building groups (as requested by the TEC) but they didn't show up.

That's because a male tribal member contacted the NNI and said their services were no longer needed, Tibbetts said.

Then censure him, not me, Mason said. "I want not just the TEC, but White Earth tribal members to know that I did not violate the constitution," she said.

The allegations about Mason interfering with the tribal court had to do with tribal judge BJ Jones, who earned the ire of the tribal council for a case in which White Earth agreed to waive its sovereign immunity. "A discussion was held with Lenny Fineday, a discussion on sovereign immunity," Mason said. "Where did it ever come from that White Earth ever waived its sovereign immunity? By consensus we all agreed that was a bad call by BJ Jones - that was it," she said.

"We sat down and discussed it," Tibbetts added. "There was some discussion of BJ's bad calls." The head tribal judge, who was tasked with firing Jones, himself resigned two weeks later, Tibbetts said

It was never made clear at the meeting Wednesday who directed the chief judge to fire Jones.

The bottom line with all the allegations is that no proof was offered for any of them, Mason said.

"They cannot make allegations without providing facts," she said. "My basic and easiest argument is: How can they prove this? We cannot just throw out opinions and allegations without having them backed by facts."