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Split in new SBC on tribal court; no intervention yet by BIA

Nov 2, 2016 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

The three new members of the Shoshone Business Council asked tribal court judge John St. Clair to swear them in Monday, signaling a rift in the council's position on the tribal court.

The move displeased the three incumbent council-members who had withdrawn recognition of St. Clair's court a month ago and accused the judge of judicial misconduct.

St. Clair had issued a strong order banning the SBC from unilaterally controlling joint programs, which the Shoshones had argued was a conflict of interest considering operation and that tribal court funding was of explicit concern.

New members supportive

However, two incoming council members -- Karen LaCroix and Vernon Hill -- have expressed support for continuing the operation of tribal court after winning election last week.

After a request from the SBC, the BIA set up its own court to handle the legal of affairs of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and its members.

Local BIA superintendent Norma Gourneau had said in a Friday letter that St. Clair and his staff must vacate the courthouse within two days.

Gourneau said all building keys must be returned and told St. Clair that "if you are unable to move tribal court records and other tribal court property and equipment before Oct. 30, we will secure any remaining property on site and are happy to work with you to ensure you have access to records and schedule a mutually convenient time to move the remaining items to your new facilities."

Still operating

St. Clair said he was half-expecting to show up to work Monday and find himself locked out of the courthouse he's helmed since 1987.

Instead, he and his staff continued their work as usual, and the BIA had made no move to evict him as of Wednesday afternoon..

However, the BIA did swear in two new associate judges Monday and made no indication it will back off from moving forward with its own court.

Ownership

St. Clair said the BIA doesn't have good standing to claim ownership of the courthouse.

"When I requested information from the superintendent that the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes had transferred (ownership of the courthouse) to the BIA, I received no response."

St. Clair also said Gourneau's notice also ran counter to the eviction standards laid out in the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code.

"Two days to vacate is unreasonable," he said. "It seems like tribal law is being ignored."

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Tribal court judge John St. Clair and local Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent Norma Gourneau both helped swear in new members of the Shoshone Business Council amid an uncertain future for the court system on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Photo by Daniel Bendtsen

Tribal court judge John St. Clair and local Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent Norma Gourneau both helped swear in new members of the Shoshone Business Council amid an uncertain future for the court system on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Photo by Daniel Bendtsen


Tribal court judge John St. Clair and local Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent Norma Gourneau both helped swear in new members of the Shoshone Business Council amid an uncertain future for the court system on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Photo by Daniel Bendtsen

Tribal court judge John St. Clair and local Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent Norma Gourneau both helped swear in new members of the Shoshone Business Council amid an uncertain future for the court system on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Photo by Daniel Bendtsen

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