It’s been just over a year since I took office as the Vice-Chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate after winning the election on a message of anti-corruption, and nearly as long since my Removal and lost appeal. I have been involved with Tribal politics for a long time. I have served the People as Tiospa Zina School Board President, as a member of several boards, and as the Vice-Chair of Buffalo Lake District. Sadly, I have seen corruption on every level. I ran for Vice-Chair because I felt it was my duty as a citizen of the Oyate, and as Akicita. I ran knowing that I would lose my Admin Building Manager job of two and a half years, and knowing that I would most likely be removed. I get asked every day to run again for elected office, but unless the People demand changes to the Constitution, changes to the Legal Department, and changes to allow off-reservation member voting, the corruption will continue. I’m choosing to speak out again now because a new election season is nearly upon us, and I hope new candidates emerge that have education, experience and the strength to stand up and do what’s right for the People.
I remember on Inauguration Day, I was unexpectedly asked to speak. Right away I stood and spoke about the issues I campaigned about – stopping the corruption, and going back to the truly traditional Dakota values and ways of taking care of all the Oyate. Huge sums of money are going to inflated salaries, unsubstantiated bonuses, cashing in unearned leave, fake FICA payments, and many other scams that benefit only a few people and families. We are a very successful Tribe, and our People should not have to struggle as they do with finding housing, getting a good education, finding a decent-paying job and childcare, or getting help with addiction.
My political appointees and I tried to hit the ground running by requesting reports and access to the Tribe’s finances including all budgets. These requests and duties were reasonable and lawful given that they are the main duties granted to the Vice-Chair Office under the SWO Constitution. The obstruction began immediately, beginning with the Information Technology Department, previously under the Vice-Chairman, and now under Chairman Flute. IT failed to provide us with computers, phones or software access/log-ins, and all the computers belonging to the previous staff were wiped clean. While trying to find workarounds to the situation, the “Jump Drive Controversy” emerged.
So within the very first week of taking office, the wheel of corruption went into motion, and the following push for Removal was fabricated based on nothing but lies and the use of a $3 jump drive. In March, without a request or approval of the majority of the seven Districts, I and my staff were suspended pending removal on nine charges with two more charges added a couple of weeks later. Remember, too, this Council refused to release the charges against me to the public, because they were trying to keep the voters in the dark.
First off, I filed an injunction against the Removal. One reason was that Council was not following Election Code and affording me due process, but the main reason for the injunction request was to point out a conflict of interest involving two members of Council – Chairman Flute and Long Hollow Councilman Justin Canku, who previously served as political appointee to Chairman Flute. My office was investigating nearly a half-million dollars of unapproved expenditures by the Tribal Chairman’s Office. In a normal court of law, due to their self-interest in my removal, they would have not been allowed to vote on my Removal. Judge BJ Jones denied the injunction, allowing the Removal to move forward.
Despite all the flaws in the charges and procedure, in a tie vote broken by the Chairman, Council voted to remove me from office. I immediately filed an appeal to the Tribal Supreme Court. The SWO Supreme Court is made up of three judges. Unexpectedly, one of the judges resigned, and incredibly Tribal Attorney Deb Flute and/or the Legal department selected and hired the replacement judge. The very judge who would hear Attorney Deb Flute two weeks later give her argument against me. This, too, was a violation of Tribal Law, which grants the Judicial Committee the authority to search for and select the candidates for the Supreme Court, which they then present to the Council for the final hiring decision.
Not surprisingly, my appeal was denied. Our Constitution and the Election Code are actually so poorly written that they conflict with one another. The Appeals Court should have ruled that the Constitution trumps the Election Code. Unfortunately for the people who voted for me, the SWO Supreme Court failed to uphold our Constitution. My loss of my elected position became “just another” special election costing the Oyate upwards of $100,000 each. Just add this to the long list of “Special Elections” due to the corruption of our Laws and Constitution – Special Election for Secretary (Crystal Owen in 2015), Special Election for Chairman (Bruce Renville Removal 2015), Special Election for Lake Traverse Councilman (Dave Flute elected interim Chairman), Special Election for Vice Chair (me) and now this month a Special Election for Secretary (Crystal Heminger 2018 after her abrupt resignation in December 2017). All of this money could be spent on programs to benefit the Oyate.
The very first thing that must be done is to immediately remove the current Tribal Attorneys and restructure the Legal Department to create one that acts in the interest of the entire Oyate. Shortly after Chairman Flute took office, his sister Deb Flute was appointed “Tribal Attorney”, a position long-held by Attorney Shaun Eastman. The attorneys are in no way impartial, but play politics by twisting the meaning of our Constitution, Tribal Laws, and Tribal policies to meet political goals. Prior to taking office, most of the newly elected Council members agreed to a plan to create a Legal Department that was more transparent and ethical. Once taking office though, the support for this plan fell through, and we are still in the same mess – nothing has changed, and nothing will change until this major problem is addressed.
I am angered every week when I read the Chairman’s Corner filled with misleading information and outright lies. The grocery store, Dakota Crossings, was never a viable business project, and a well-written and researched business plan would have made this clear to anyone. This venture has put us deeply into debt for generations, and inevitably other funds such as gaming and settlement funds will likely be used to keep the store afloat. With declining revenues at our Casinos, there is no way all of this debt is sustainable.
As a final insult, without consulting the Elders of our Tribe, Council decided to change the Elder Gift Card program. Off-reservation Elders still get their Wal-Mart gift card, but on-reservation Elders are forced to use a Gift Card good only at the Dakota Crossings grocery store. They can no longer purchase the non-grocery items they need, and their buying power for groceries is reduced as well. This is discriminatory because the on-reservation Elders are being treated differently than the off-reservation Elders. The true Dakota way is to honor our Elders and their wishes, but to make this change without even consulting them far from honors them.
Akicita, USMC Combat Vet
[Editor Note: This Open Letter was submitted and printed in the Sota in the Jan 22, 2018 edition.]
Get up to speed or re-read past articles related to former Vice-Chair White’s Removal.
9 February 2017 – An IT Breach or an IT Failure? – A common sense analysis of the “Jump Drive Controversy” that kicked off the Removal efforts. (MOST READ!)
13 March 2017 – SWO Vice-Chair Suspended Pending Removal
27 March 2017 – Official Charges Against Vice-Chair White – Read all charges here including an analysis of whether they even had the Authority to Act granted by the Districts. Council refused to release these charges to the public trying to keep us in the dark. HOTOKECA News posted them to keep the Oyate informed – A Different Voice Serving the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.
1 April 2017 – SWO Vice-Chairman Donovan White’s Written Responses to Charges – See his detailed responses that refute all charges.
5 April 2017 – Council Removes Vice-Chair White – how the votes went.
28 April 2017 – Corruption on a Grand Scale – An Open Letter following up with Donovan White after the Removal.