Timbisha leaders act to stop BIA election allowing outsiders to vote

October 11, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. --  Timbisha Shoshone tribal leaders filed two administrative appeals today to stop a vote on a proposed new constitution scheduled for Nov. 4, 2013.  The proposed constitution would revoke the existing Constitution adopted by the Tribe in 1986 and establish many non-Timbisha as new tribal members.   

“The proposed constitution has been drafted by outsiders who have convinced the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to call a BIA supervised election to approve the constitution,” said Joe Kennedy, Chairman of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.  “Because of unjustifiable BIA interference in the self-governance of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, a block of voters with no known connection to the tribe may soon control a federally recognized Indian tribe.”

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, based in Death Valley, Calif., has historically exercised its sovereignty and inherent power of self-government by determining for itself the requirements for tribal membership.  These requirements are established in the existing Timbisha Shoshone Constitution.

In 2008, the Tribal Enrollment Committee performed an annual review of the membership rolls and determined that 74 individuals did not meet the membership requirements of the Timbisha Constitution.  The Timbisha Enrollment Committee then applied their existing laws and disenrolled these individuals, providing each person an opportunity for appeal. None of these non-members has ever presented any evidence to dispute the Enrollment Committee’s findings that they were ineligible for membership.

In 2011, the Interior Department decided not to recognize the duly elected Timbisha Tribal Council and ordered the Timbisha to hold a new election and to allow these individuals who had been disenrolled to vote and to run for tribal office.  The Interior Department ordered that the election be run by a group that was dominated by these non-members. Neither the existing Tribal Council nor the Tribal Election Board was involved in those decisions. The result led to a shift in leadership and eventually to the proposed constitution that would allow previously identified non-members and many others to become members.

The main ground for both of the appeals filed today is that the election called by the BIA will allow many persons to vote who are not members of the Tribe and who do not meet the membership requirements of the Timbisha Constitution.  The appeals call for the election to be stopped and for the Interior Department to take action to assure that persons who do not meet the requirements for membership do not receive benefits intended only for members of the Tribe and that such persons are not permitted to vote and hold office in the Tribe.

Robert T. Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center and lead counsel on the appeals, says that the BIA’s actions violate federal law and regulations in many respects. “The BIA cannot be allowed to arbitrarily select or create the tribal government with which they will engage; the BIA must not be allowed to ignore and violate tribal constitutions; and they must not interfere with a tribe’s sovereign authority to decide for themselves who is, and who is not, a tribal citizen.”

For more information on the Timbisha Shoshone appeals visit www.indianlaw.org.

application/pdf icon Notice of Appeal - Superintendent Decision regarding Secretarial Election
application/pdf iconNotice of Appeal - Regional Director Decision regarding Secretarial Election

Below are the full appeals (with the Appendix).  They are large documents and may take longer to load.  We appreciate your interest and patience.

application/pdf icon Appeal of Superintendent Decision with Appendix
application/pdf icon Notice of Appeal - Regional Director Decision with Appendix