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WDAY: The News Leader

Published April 15, 2013, 08:19 AM

Leadership of Spirit Lake Nation in dispute

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — Members of the Spirit Lake Nation have voted to oust Chairman Roger Yankton over concerns about his leadership, but it is unclear whether he actually has been removed from office.

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — Members of the Spirit Lake Nation have voted to oust Chairman Roger Yankton over concerns about his leadership, but it is unclear whether he actually has been removed from office.

The North Dakota tribe's constitution says a petition is needed to remove a chairman, and opponents of Yankton tell WDAY-TV that they expect a legal battle.

"If we were to go to court on this, the chair would legally stay in office," said Leander "Russ" McDonald, runner-up in the 2011 chairman election who was tabbed Sunday as Yankton's replacement. McDonald is vice president of academics at Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten.

Yankton did not attend the Sunday meeting of the tribal general assembly and did not respond to calls the Grand Forks Herald made to his cellphone. He did appear at a meeting of elders on Friday and offered assurances that his administration would look into problems tribal members had identified, such as ineffective child protection services on the reservation.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took over those services from the tribe last October following criticism that the tribe was failing to protect vulnerable children.

Darren Walking Eagle, the tribe's chief administrative officer, told the Herald he was not sure what would happen next, though he said the usual manner of replacing a chairman is for members of the tribe to circulate a petition for a vote.

A petition drive to remove Yankton in early 2012 failed. It was dismissed after a tribal court judge ruled the petitions fell short of the required number of eligible enrolled members.

Tribal elder Erich Longie told WDAY that if advocates for a change in leadership need to use a different method, they will.

"If we need to go a petition route, I'll be writing one up tonight just in case," he said.

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