Tribal Dissidents Hold Complex, Declare Elections Saturday Off
CARNEGIE, Okla. (AP) _ Dissident Kiowa Indians who took over their tribal headquarters say an election planned for Saturday to decide the tribe’s next chairman won’t be held.
The armed faction of Kiowas seized control of the tribal headquarters early Thursday. Their leader, Herschel Sahmaunt, says he is the rightful chairman despite being disqualified in an earlier election.
″As tribal chairman, I would like to announce that the election will not be held″ as scheduled, said Sahmaunt.
Ballots for the Saturday election are inside the three-acre compound in Carnegie, about 100 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was attempting to determine if any laws were violated and who has jurisdiction, and was looking for an alternative to removing the protesters by force, said Merle Zunigha, acting area director of the BIA in Anadarko.
Shortly before noon, however, BIA police moved into position along the perimeter of the complex and announced plans to control access. Those who wanted to leave the complex were asked to do so.
Zunigha said Sahmaunt won the chairman’s job by several votes in June, but was ruled ineligible by the tribe’s election board because he had an outstanding debt to the tribe. Sahmaunt says he paid off the $400 debt before the election.
The tribe’s business committee later obtained an injunction from a federal court barring Sahmaunt from assuming the duties of chairman and from interfering with tribal business, Zunigha said. A three-judge panel in Shawnee heard Sahmaunt’s appeal in the case Thursday and took it under advisement, Zunigha said.
About 20 of Sahmaunt’s followers entered the complex before dawn Thursday. Although their ranks had doubled by midafternoon, Zunigha said the bureau would not interfere.
″There’s not a lot we can do right now,″ he said. ″We’re keeping surveillance and police in the area. It has been very peaceful so far.″
The tribe has 5,000 to 8,000 members.
Sahmaunt said late Thursday that of those inside the complex, only one security guard was armed with a pistol. ″We don’t want any violence,″ he said.
Later in the day, the dissidents allowed one BIA official into the headquarters for discussions, but those talks ended with no results. There were no further negotiations.