The Ute Tribe's governing Business Committee has announced it will ask the U.S. attorney for Utah to investigate both the tribal government and a dissident group seeking the ouster of most committee members.
The six-member committee, five targeted in a recall drive by dissatisfied tribal members, called for the investigation in a resolution that also said it would ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take over the management and operation of the tribe's court system."In view of the allegations of corruption on Indian reservations across the nation, and in view of allegations of misconduct against leaders of the Ute Indian Tribe, the committee believes that it's time to take action to restore confidence in the integrity of the Ute Indian tribal government," the committee said in a statement released Thursday.
Officials at the U.S. attorney's office in Salt Lake City were not immediately available for comment on the tribe's request.
The move came after petitions were presented to the Business Committee Wednesday calling for the ouster of five tribal leaders in a confrontation pitting angry tribal members against tribal leadership.
Valid signatures from one-third of the tribe's three bands - the Uncompaghre, White River and Uintah - were presented to the council, said Perry Baker, Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.
The petition drive came about following a combative January public meeting during which grievances against the council were aired and a vote was taken ousting the council from office.
The Business Committee, however, remained in office, saying the vote was unconstitutional and that they are still office holders until a recall election initiated by a petition drive is held.
Larry Cespooch, organizer of the recall drive, said Thursday he commended the committee's decision, but added it was "unfortunate it has taken the business committee so long to respond to the allegations."
Cespooch and other tribal dissidents presented the council with a list of wrongdoings at the Jan. 10 meeting that resulted in the vote to oust the committee. The grievances included allegations of misuse of tribal funds and dissatisfaction over conditions on the reservation.
Business Committee members who are subjects of the petition drive include Gary Poowegup, Maxine Natchees, Irene Cuch, Wilford Coneta and Chairman Lester Chapoose. Committee Member Stewart Pike will retire at the end of his term and is not the subject of a petition.
The committee asked that anyone with knowledge or evidence of misconduct by any member of the committee and its staff to meet with representatives of the U.S. attorney to present their evidence in full.
At the same time, the business committee asked for an investigation into allegations of misconduct by some dissidents who gathered signatures for a recall election. The resolution did not specify the nature of the alleged misconduct.
Cespooch, however, said the committee's action proved that Concerned Tribal Members had accomplished what it intended.
"It's just too bad the people had to bring out recall petitions," he said. "It would appear that if they had nothing to hide in the beginning, they would have done this at the start."
In calling for BIA takeover of the tribal court system, the business committee cited years of controversy over its role and operation.
"There is a significant backlog of cases waiting for decision by the tribal appellate court," the resolution said. "There is concern over the need to update several provisions of the Ute Law and Order Code, and there is a need for improved management and training of court personnel.