Native Sun News: Northern Cheyenne Tribe mum on settlement

Pauline Wallowing and her son, Elijah, Northern Cheyenne activists. Photo courtesy A Cheyenne Voice

Northern Cheyenne threaten takeover of tribal offices
Fueled by St. Labre Settlement
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. –– Northern Cheyenne activists recently obtained a copy of Tribal Council Resolution (DOI-028-2015) detailing a settlement agreement between the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and the St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, reached in December, 2014. That added fuel to simmering community complaints and unrest related to the settlement.

Heretofore, the Tribal Council had not released the details of that controversial settlement. In keeping with section J, the Tribe agrees to keep the terms of settlement confidential other than to inform its members, and to not publicize the agreement, including to the media. However, since then, tribal officials have not informed the tribal community about the settlement in any organized manner, specifically refusing comment to the media.

Northern Cheyenne activists provided a copy of the tribal resolution, a public government document, to A Cheyenne Voice newspaper based on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.

The settlement agreement has proven controversial within the local tribal community, now raised to a new level as settlement details become available.

A sign at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana. Photo from St. Labre Indian School

On Aug. 2, 2015, some twenty protestors stormed a Tribal Council meeting, threatening whole-sale removal of that body, including specific district complaints for removal of individual council members; demanding a per capita distribution of settlement funds and abolishment of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) government. A small group of protestors carrying signs now occupy sidewalks in front of the Northern Cheyenne capital building and have requested support from traditional military societies.

“We’ll be here,” said Pauline Wallowing of Busby and one of the key organizers. “We’re not going away.”

“It’s at a breaking point. We are through with this type of government,” said her son, Elijah Wallowing, college hydrology student. “They (the tribal council) are riding on the backs of our poor people, enriching themselves at our expense. They are benefiting from our poverty with high salaries, expensive and excessive travel while ignoring our needs, not even coming to work. They did not consult with the people about the St. Labre Agreement and have failed to tell us about it. This money does not belong to the Tribe. It belongs to the Northern Cheyenne people.”

Unemployment and poverty on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation is estimated from 50-70 percent, according to statistics from the tribal economic development department.

A fundraising plea features an image of an Indian girl. Image from St. Labre Indian School

Though the protestors loudly and angrily raised many concerns to the Tribal Council at the August 3 meeting, a primary issue was the St. Labre agreement which settles a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Tribe against St. Labre in the Montana State District Court, thirteenth Judicial District in Yellowstone County. The initial efforts to sue St. Labre started in the late 1990’s according to Hugh Clubfoot, then part of a tribal council committee working on the issue.

Elijah Wallowing was particularly irate by the August 3 tribal council procedure. Prepared to address the Council at 9am, community organizers and speakers had to wait until 1pm while the Council convened in private session in an executive board room to discuss personnel and budget matters.

“It seems they don’t want us to know about the budget,” he said. “It is almost impossible to get any information about it. They tell us to be more specific in our requests.”

Community members then addressed the Tribal Council for two hours, Elijah Wallowing said.

The cafeteria at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana. Photo from St. Labre Indian School

“The President wanted to cut us off, but gave in when I reminded him that the Council was disrespecting elders and women by denying them the right to speak,” the young activist reported.

Tribal Vice-President Winfield Russell later told A Cheyenne Voice that he was glad to see “the people speaking up.”

As summarized in DOI-O28-2015; the tribal lawsuit alleged that St. Labre’s fundraising system created a constructive trust on behalf of the Tribe; that St. Labre wrongfully converted those funds to its own use, and, as a result, unjustly has enriched itself. The second group of claims alleged contract and fraud issues; the third group of claims alleged a constitutional tort in which St. Labre has committed cultural genocide against the Tribe in violation of Article 11, Sections 3,4 and 10 of the Montana Constitution.

The tribal resolution also notes that a claim not included in the lawsuit is that St. Labre Indian School Educational Association has been in trespass for decades and to the present on Reservation tribal trust land consisting of 13- and 41-acre parcels and has paid no consideration for the use of such land.

The flag of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Photo from Facebook

The negotiated settlement agreement was approved by a unanimous vote of the Tribal Council on December 2, 2014. Terms included:
• Eleven million to be paid by St. Labre including $6 million in 2014 and $1 million per year until 2019. According to tribal sources, the initial payment has been deposited into the Tribal Permanent Fund, a long-term investment corpus which cannot now be invaded for a per capita payment. Tracey Robinson, Tribal Council Sergeant at Arms told the crowd during the August 3, 2015 Council meeting that this was ordered by the Judge, a point hotly contested by opponents. (Under the tribal ordinance which established the Permanent Fund in 1996, an annual written report is to be provided to each enrolled member, but this has only been accomplished once since that time.)
• Thereafter, St. Labre will make annual payment of $60,000 to the Tribe as long as it remains on the lands in question;
• St. Labre will remove a water tank based on tribal property;
• The Diocese will transfer to the Tribe all right, title and interest in and to an abandoned church sites at Rosebud subdivision and Muddy;
• The lawsuit is dismissed with prejudice as a fully and finally litigated on the merits;
• The Tribe agreed to a full and final release of all the claims ever raised in the lawsuit and complaint;
• The Tribe will covenant that St. Labre’s use of the 13 and 41 acres tracts of land as long as payments are made;
• The Tribe agreed to pass a resolution (in form acceptable to St. Labre) acknowledging that St. Labre’s current fundraising is appropriate, that it will never claim in any form that St. Labre’s occupancy and use of the land or any names, stories, images, symbols was inappropriate, provided that, in the use of the land, St. Labre makes payment;
• The Tribe waived sovereign immunity for purposes of enforcing the settlement;
• The Tribe agreed to keep the terms of the settlement confidential other than to inform its members, and to not publicize the settlement, including in the media;
• The parties agreed that disputes over effectuating these terms of settlement shall be resolved by mediator and retired Judge Michael Hogan who is immune from suit.

Tim Lamewoman who holds the nonpaid and elected position of General District Chairman on the Reservation said: “This issue is not over yet. We are going to organize a general meeting of all five reservation districts to discuss the St. Labre settlement and the many other concerns of our community. The people are very frustrated and want change. That may be on the wind in Cheyenne country.”

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Montana Supreme Court Decision:
Northern Cheyenne Tribe v. Roman Catholic Church (February 5, 2013)

Related Stories
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe keeps people in dark (07/31)
Northern Cheyenne Tribe reaches settlement with Catholic school (1/19)
Northern Cheyenne Tribe wins lawsuit against Catholic school (2/7)
Northern Cheyenne Tribe sues for share of school donations (5/2)
Northern Cheyenne Tribe's lawsuit questioned (03/15)
Northern Cheyenne Tribe sues church and school (3/14)

Join the Conversation