WDAY: The News Leader

Published July 16, 2010, 03:20 PM

Tribal members allege that chairwoman abused her authority

White Earth, Minn. (WDAY TV) - White Earth tribal members have submitted a petition to oust Chairwoman Erma Vizenor. Tribal members allege that Vizenor abused her authority suspending tribal rights and granting non-members hunting and fishing rights.

They claim she granted membership to the White Earth nation to non-native people who were less than one fourth native blood. The more than 50-protesters say they are looking for a positive, peaceful change thru new leadership.

“The elders here were afraid to go down there because of the treatment that they were getting there; they are the ones that are causing the problems. We've been peaceful, we haven’t harmed anybody.”

This week tribal headquarters was on lock down due to protestors blocking roads with rocks and trees and tribal leaders say some even made verbal threats to leaders. Today the chairwoman had a chance to speak and voice her side of the issue.

Tribal leaders say it’s been a long few days since protestors chained the doors on tribal headquarters and today tribal leaders got a chance to respond to those allegations.

Erma Vizenor: "The merits of the petition were baseless."

In order to submit a petition to the White Earth council you must be a member of the tribe. Tribal leaders say of the 568 signatures on the petition, 109 of them had no listed address and were forged.

Erma Vizenor: "However the conduct of the petitioners has far exceeded the limits of free speech and assembly."

Vizenor says the council has given members multiple chances to present evidence against her, proving the allegations are true.

Erma Vizenor: "The constitutional reform process was completely open and transparent they all have an opportunity to be a delegate."

Of the 20-thousand who are citizens here around 50 have protested, where leaders say they burned flags and caused 100-thousand dollars worth of damage resulting in multiple arrests.

Randy Goodwin: “People will be charged criminally for what they've done, what they have caused to be done and what their doing."

Protestors argue elements of Vizenors leadership have gone against the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe constitution, but Vizenor says change and reform is necessary in order to build White Earth in a positive direction.

Erma Vizenor: "The Chippewa Constitution is an impediment and there’s no system that sets up checks and balances.”

Until viable evidence is presented Vizenor says she will continue to do her job. This is not the first time issues have been raised about a White Earth Chairman. In 1991 Vizenor led a reform movement to oust controversial chairman Darryl Chip Wadena.