The “Clean Slate” Election and Aftermath

Although it was predicted that the vast majority of voters would boycott the election, some 661 tribal members came out to vote in it. The election was certified with the following results: Paul Thompson, Hilda Smoke, and Alma Ransom were elected as “Three-Year Chiefs 1, 2, and 3,” respectively; and Barbara Lazore, Brian Garrow, and John Bigtree, Jr. won the race for “Three-Year Sub Chiefs 1, 2, and 3.”196

Even before the vote took place, Philip Tarbell and Douglas Smoke of the Constitutional Government insisted that they would not step down. The called their ouster at the referendum “illegal” in an interview with The Daily Courier-Observer:

“We were wrong in signing for the referendum. We didn’t have the authority to rescind the constitution or call for the referendum,” Smoke said yesterday evening. “We (chiefs) have come to the understanding that they don’t have the grounds to oust us,” he said.197

On July 1st, upon taking their oaths, the new leadership of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe passed a Tribal Council resolution, TCR 96-2-B, which revoked the constitution.198 The following day, The Daily Courier-Observer ran a headline below the new council’s photograph that read, “Feds Still Recognizing Original Tribal Leaders.”

Dean White, New York field representative with the BIA, noted they have not received any request to recognize any new leadership on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

“We haven’t been involved. Our policy is to stay out of the internal affairs,” White said. “They select who their leaders are without interference from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We have received no request to say this group is not the leaders. We recognize the officials under the constitution.

“We understand there is a potential for dispute (between the two sets of officials), but it is premature for us to make a pronouncement,” White said.199

Philip Tarbell and Douglas Smoke were not alone in holding out for the constitution. There continued to be community support, specifically from those who had supported the concept in the first place. Russell Lazore, for instance, filed another petition in St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court, this time to determine whether or not the Tribal Council acted within its legal authority when the constitution was rescinded. Judge Christine Zachary Deom offered the following opinion on July 12, 1996:

…the Tribal Council illegally rescinded the certification of the 1995 Constitution therefore any subsequent acts would be considered to be null and void. The June 15, 1996, recall government is hereby enjoined from exercising any official government authority and any acts undertaken as of July 1, 1996200

Later in the month, Bureau of Indian Affairs Acting Eastern Area Director Franklin Keel wrote to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council to support not only the Constitutional Government but the most recent Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court decisions as well. The letter states:

This office accepts the June 7 and July 12, 1996, decisions of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court in the matters regarding the status of the tribal constitution and the identity of recognized tribal leaders. Accordingly, we recognize that, (1) the tribal constitution originally adopted in June 1995 has neither been repealed nor repudiated, and (2) those individuals elected to leadership positions in the tribal election held on June 1, 1996, are entitled to recognition as St. Regis Mohawk leaders. The recognized leaders of the tribe are as follows: Edward Smoke—chief and CEO; Carol Herne—tribal clerk; Alan White—tribal council member; Doug Smoke—tribal council member, and Carol Ross—tribal council member. Only the aforementioned persons are recognized as possessing authority to represent the tribe in government-to-government relations with the United States.201

This stance taken by the BIA would serve to add fuel to the growing fire. The newly-elected tribal chiefs and sub-chiefs appealed to Franklin Keel of the BIA to rescind his July 26th determinations. The letter specifically made note that the constitution referred to by Franklin Keel was never adopted by the Mohawk people.202

On August 5th, the case then went to the Department of the Interior’s Administrative Judge, Anita Vogt, who sent a letter to the Tribe instructing them to show why the July 26, 1996 letter from Franklin Keel should not be “summarily affirmed.”203

Meanwhile, the constitutional debate caused internal administrative struggles, as evidenced in a letter from Ed Smoke and Phil Tarbell to Tribal Clerk Carol Herne. Mrs. Herne apparently refused to attest and record resolutions of the Constitutional Government leaders. The memo sent to Herne also attempted to perform an administrative modification as it states:

…this memorandum will be considered suitable to allow for the recording of this resolution without the Tribal Clerk’s signature.204

Herne replied the next day in a letter addressed to Smoke and Tarbell and stated:

The constitution to which you refer was rejected by the Mohawk people in a referendum conducted on June 3, 1995. The people overwhelmingly confirmed this in a referendum conducted on June 1, 1996.205

She went on to say:

Your so-called government lacks any legitimacy whatever. I will not certify ‘resolutions’ which you adopt or take any action that could be interpreted as an acknowledgement that you have governmental authority.206

The constitutional representatives responded to Carol Herne in a letter dated September 24th:

Your determination that the June 1, 1996 Government ‘lacks any legitimacy’ whatsoever, and your determination not to certify Resolutions duly adopted by this Government indicates your determination to disassociate yourself from this Government. We can reach no other determination other than that you have resigned your position under this Government in order to pursue perceived allegiance to Hilda Smoke, Alma Ransom and Paul Thompson.

It is with deep regret that we accept your resignation as position of Tribal Clerk for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. It is unfortunate that this has come about after your years of dedicated service to the Tribe.207

On the same day, the Tribal Council was informed by the Department of the Interior regarding the appeal that was sent back in July. The letter explained that the appellants did not prove that they had exhausted all tribal remedies in attempting to resolve the issue. The Appeal Board affirmed Franklin Keel’s July 26th decision.208

On September 27th, the Constitutional Government sent a memorandum to the Tribe’s department heads and staff regarding the “final settlement” of leadership issue. The memo cited a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated July 31, 1996 that was apparently signed by the People’s Government and the members of the Constitutional Government:

The Constitutional Government and the Tribal Chiefs will abide by the final decision of the Department of the Interior regarding the recognized Tribal Government.209

The memo further advised that all employees were not to take any direction from the People’s Government and that all letterhead with their names were to be collected and forwarded to the Constitutional Government’s Tribal Administrator.210

The People’s Government filed a Motion for Reconsideration in light of the recent BIA decision to affirm earlier decisions in support of the Constitutional Government. The letter highlighted the major incidents following the June 1995 Constitutional Referendum and concluded with an attempt to persuade the BIA that Judge Christine Zachary Deom had no validity.211

196  SRMT Election Results, June 29, 1996.  Index # TC—II—5.
197  “Two Tribal Officials Call Ouster Illegal”, The Daily Courier-Observer, June , 1996.
198  SRMT Tribal Council Resolution TCR #96-2-B, Revoking of Tribal Constitution, July 1, 1996.  Index # CG—II—2.
199  “Feds Still Recognizing Original Tribal Leaders,” The Daily-Courier Observer, July 2, 1996.
200  St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Courts, Order, Case #96C10080, “1996 Elections”, Russell Lazore, Plaintiff, v. SRMT Council and Election Board, July 12, 1996.  Index # TC—II—4.
201  USDOI/BIA Letter to Hilda Smoke, July 26, 1996.  Index # TC—1—14.
202  Notice of Appeal from Bradley Waterman to Board of Indian Appeals, US Department of the Interior, August 2, 1996.  Index # TC—V—35.
203  USDOI Administrative Judge Anita Vogt to Appellants, August 27, 1996.  TC—V—36.
204  SRMT Letter to Carol Herne, September 5, 1996, Index # TC—V—22.
205  SRMT Letter to Ed Smoke and Phil Tarbell, September 6, 1996, Index # TC—1—19.
206  Ibid.
207  SRMT Letter to Carol Herne, September 24, 1996, Index # TC—V—21.
208  USDOI, Office of Hearings and Appeals, Order Docketing Appeal and Affirming Decision, Docket No. IBIA 96-108-A. September 24, 1996.
209  SRMT Memo Constitutional Government to All Departments and Staff, September 27, 1996, Index # TC—1—13.
210  Ibid.
211  Memorandum in Support of Motion for Reconsideration, Brad Waterman, October 24, 1996.

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