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Group’s appeal of tribal vote irks Timbisha Shoshone leader

Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Chairman George Gholson blasted the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) for getting involved in tribal politics by filing two administrative appeals to stop a vote on a proposed new tribal constitution last week.

The Timbisha Shoshone has a small reservation in Furnace Creek, where one tribal faction is based. Gholson is based in Bishop, Calif., home of another tribal faction.

The Indian Law Resource Center announced last Wednesday its protest that a failure to meet deadlines caused the Gholson council to cancel the election to approve the constitution. The ILRC challenged 49 people as ineligible to vote out of 101 registered. The group reported providing documentation on 47 voters. Gholson blamed the federal government shutdown for cancelling the Monday vote; the U.S. Department of the Interior wasn’t able to publish the list of registered voters at least 20 days before the election as required by the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Indian Law Resource Center, in an article published in the Pahrump Valley Times, said the proposed constitution would revoke the existing constitution adopted by the tribe in 1986 and establish many non-Timbisha as new tribal members. Furnace Creek members accused Gholson of heavy-handed tactics in assuming control, like changing locks and freezing bank accounts.

Gholson said the latest appeals, filed with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, is another attempt to prop up Joe Kennedy, who some tribal members claim is the true chairman.

“We are astonished that the ILRC, an organization with a venerable history of protecting and furthering the right of indigenous peoples around the world, would take it upon itself to intervene in our internal tribal political process in this manner. That the ILRC has taken a position in favor of tribal disenrollment takes us past astonishment to somewhere more akin to mystified,” Gholson states in his letter to Susan Masten, chairman of the ILRC dated Oct. 24.

Gholson details the history of the two factions of the tribe, which split in 2007 with one faction led by Kennedy. He said through most of 2007 and 2008 there were two tribal councils claiming to be legitimate, each holding elections and council meetings. In late 2008, Gholson said the enrollment committee appointed by Kennedy’s tribal council took action to disenroll 74 members, about one-third of the adult members of the tribe.

Gholson said a new tribal council arose out of a special meeting of the general council and he was elected chairman at that time. Then Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Echo Hawk recognized Gholson’s tribal council for 120 days to carry out an election, which took place in April 2011.

“Echo Hawk’s decision was based in part on the fact that of the previous elections carried out by the competing factions, more members had participated in our elections. Echo Hawk acknowledged that this was in part because Joe Kennedy’s tribal council had disenrolled many people who were therefore excluded from participating in the election,” Gholson wrote. “Joe Kennedy and other members of his faction participated in the April 2011 tribal council elections and were soundly defeated. Our tribal council has since been re-elected in tribal council elections held in November 2011 and November 2012.”

Gholson said Kennedy appealed Echo Hawk’s decision to the U.S. District Court in 2011, which was dismissed on April 8. Kennedy then filed an appeal of the dismissal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Timbisha Shoshone became a federally recognized tribe in 1983. Gholson said the 74 members Kennedy’s group attempted to disenroll were members since before 1990. He said there’s no dispute they are Native American or Shoshone.

In his letter, Gholson charged: “The disenrollments came out of nowhere, and were the actions of a group of less than 10 members. Kennedy and his followers initiated the attempted disenrollments because they realized that in the tribal council dispute they were on the losing end of the numbers and they took action to disenroll 74 members in order to give themselves the majority they needed to get reelection.”

Gholson said his tribal council in 2012 reviewed the constitution to consider ways to clarify enrollment criteria to ensure the disputes didn’t arise again. It also proposes changes on quorums of general council meetings, election appeals and tribal leadership disputes. He said the constitution is being revised after months of consultations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“Ultimately it is the tribe’s definition of duly registered adult member which will control,” Gholson said. He said throwing out long standing members of a tribe because a faction interprets the constitution a certain way isn’t good governance.

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