After more than two years of controversy, complaints and appeals to federal authorities, the Timbisha-Shoshone Tribe will have its day at the polls to elect a new tribal government.
Friction between two factions of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, which has members spread throughout the country, has created a situation where two separate tribal elections are held each year, creating a dispute about which Tribal Council is the recognized body.
Up until this month, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has refused to certify any of the elections, telling tribal members that they must hold one consolidated election, but a dispute in tribal enrollment had created a controversy about who is eligible to vote and run for office.
Back in November of 2008, administration of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe sent letters to dozens of members notifying them that they had been disenrolled from the tribe. The letter told the tribal members they were “erroneously, fraudulently or otherwise incorrectly enrolled” with the tribe.
A group of members who received those letters appealed to the BIA, which determined the disenrollment was not legal, and sent letters to members assuring them that they were indeed still members of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.
Since that time, every election cycle has resulted in two sets of elections: one in Death Valley and one in Bishop.
Both factions of the tribe had appealed to the BIA, asking for a decision to be made about the disenrollment and tribal elections, but, without a recognized body of government to work with, the BIA said its hands were tied.
That is, until the U.S. Department of the Interior made a decision March 2, recognizing a temporary tribal council for the purpose of facilitating a consolidated tribal election.
“For this limited propose and time, I will recognize the tribal council headed by George Gholson,” a letter from Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk states.
Echo Hawk gave two reasons supporting his decision. “First, based on the information submitted by the factions, there were approximately 137 votes cast in the Gholson-conducted elections (in Bishop), versus about 74 in the Kennedy election (in Death Valley). This very significant difference argues strongly it is less intrusive to vest limited recognition in the Gholson group than in the Kennedy group,” Echo Hawk said.
Second, Echo Hawk said the Death Valley faction’s elections have been “facially flawed” because it excluded 74 tribal members. “I understand very well that Mr. Kennedy believes 74 people shown on the tribal roll were wrongfully enrolled and should be disenrolled,” Echo Hawk said. “I understand that Mr. Kennedy believes that those people have been disenrolled. But the Department has consistently and explicitly rejected the validity of those disenrollments on procedural grounds.”
Echo Hawk went on to say that his department has not taken a position on the merits of the allegations respecting the qualifications of the 74 members who were allegedly disenrolled.
Echo Hawk directed Gholson to head up tribal leadership until a recognized consolidated election is held.
Gholson said an election will be held before June 29. The date will be decided at an upcoming tribal meeting.
He also said that the tribe is hoping to have an impartial third party organization observe the election to ensure that there is no dispute about the election results. He said he has contacted the League of Women Voters of the Eastern Sierra and is awaiting a response.
Gholson said that all tribal members will be invited to participate in the election.
Kennedy could not be reached for comment as of press time Monday.