Local tribal members are waiting to hear if the Bureau of Indian Affairs will certify an election from last week.
According to tribal members, 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.
In the past, the BIA has refused to certify either elections, telling tribal members that they must hold one consolidated election.
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 that 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.
In Death Valley, disputed tribal leaders refuse to allow those who were told they were disenrolled to participate.
All tribal members have been invited to participate in Bishop elections.
Standard procedure for tribal elections calls for the results to be sent to the BIA for certification. Since 2008, the BIA has refused to certify either election held by the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.
“To date, the last tribal election the Bureau recognized for purposes of government-to-government relations occurred in November 2006,” a letter from BIA Superintendent Troy Burdick states. “According to the Tribe’s governing documents, the terms for all of the individuals the Bureau recognized as the Tribe’s governing body, as a result of that election; have expired.”
That means that, as far as the BIA is concerned, that the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe does not have a duly-elected council in place.
The letter goes on to say that BIA Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk “urged the Tribe to overcome the obstacles of cooperation and hold a unified election including tribal members that were purportedly disenrolled, using a neutral facilitator.”
In last week’s tribal elections, 137 voters turned out for the election held in the Bishop area and 79 voted in the election held in Death Valley. There are a total of 282 eligible voters in the tribe.
Currently, both factions of the tribe are awaiting to hear from the BIA on certification of the election.
Meanwhile, tribal funds are in limbo as there are no recognized council members.
Tribal Member George Gholson said he fears that the BIA has put itself in a no-win situation when it comes to recognizing either election because there are appeals from past elections that continue to go unanswered.
In February 2009 both factions of the tribe sent appeals to the BIA concerning elections in 2008. The BIA has not responded to any of those appeals.
“If they rule in favor of the election in Death Valley, we’re going to sue them,” Gholson said. “If they go with us, they will sue them.”
Gholson said he expects to hear from the BIA on the election certification in the coming weeks.
The Inyo Register was unable to reach anyone from the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe in Death Valley, as telephone numbers for the tribe were disconnected.
Representatives from the BIA did not return phone calls as of press time.