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Published July 02, 2013, 08:55 AM

Ousted Spirit Lake Nation leader vows to fight

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — The Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota has a new leader, but the tribe's ousted chairman says he will fight to get his job back.

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — The Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota has a new leader, but the tribe's ousted chairman says he will fight to get his job back.

Tribal members on Monday voted 284-145 to recall chairman Roger Yankton Sr., in a vote prompted by recall petitions accusing him of corruption, intimidation and ineffective leadership, according to the Grand Forks Herald newspaper and WDAZ-TV.

Leander "Russ" McDonald, vice president for academic affairs at Candeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, was sworn in as the new chairman, beating out two others including former chairman Phillip Longie Sr.

McDonald said he will resign his college post, and that he will represent himself "and the Spirit Lake Tribe with dignity and respect," following the tribal constitution.

"The first thing about today is the people had their voice," McDonald said after the vote held at a local school and overseen by 15 Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers — some of whom were brought in from other jurisdictions to help with security.

"What the people said here today is that we need to follow our laws," McDonald said. "We need to make changes, but you don't change laws on your own to fit what you're doing."

Yankton said he still views himself as the chairman and that he will go to tribal court to challenge the validity of the recall petitions.

"These are things I have to question," he said.

The tribe has gone through years of upheaval, particularly with its child protection system. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took over that system last October after heavy criticism that it was failing to protect vulnerable children on the reservation. The criticism began to mount after the May 2011 slaying of a 6-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister, who authorities said had been sexually assaulted. In the most recent incident, a St. Michael woman stands accused of child abuse in the death of the toddler who authorities say died of a head injury after being pushed down a hill.

"I'm just tired of us being on the news all the time," said Alfrieda Dunn, 56, who voted against Yankton.

McDonald, who lost to Yankton in the 2011 election for chairman, was briefly installed as chairman earlier this year by tribal elders who claimed the right to do so. He later agreed with Yankton, however, that tribal law required a petition and a recall assembly.

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