Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Leaders Challenge BIA-Supervised Takeover


This week Timbisha Shoshone tribal leaders filed a challenge contesting the results of a Secretarial election on a new constitution for the Tribe, taking a further step in their ongoing battle to preserve Timbisha sovereignty and self-government. This follows a March 18th filing of an administrative appeal, still pending, to stop the vote. 

Under the proposed constitution, a large group of individuals who do not meet Timbisha’s constitutional membership requirements would become members of the Tribe.  This proposed constitution was created by the current purported-government, a faction led by a non-member, and it was they who asked the BIA to conduct the Secretarial election.  Worst of all, the BIA deliberately permitted the non-members to register and to vote; as expected, as many as 2/3 of the votes in favor of the new constitution were cast by non-members.  

Joe Kennedy, the last legitimately elected Tribal Chairman, and other tribal leaders specifically challenged, among other things, the inclusion of non-members on the voters list without any form of review and the Agency’s complete disregard for the Tribe’s current and long-recognized Constitution throughout their conduct of the election.

Robert T. Coulter, Executive Director of the Indian Law Resource Center, said, “This election is unlawful under tribal law and it is unlawful under federal law.  It simply cannot stand.  Non-members were allowed to vote without any attempt to review their eligibility.”  Coulter also emphasized that “Everything about this election violates the Tribe’s existing, valid constitution, a constitution the Timbisha unanimously adopted in 1986 and which the Federal government has repeatedly acknowledged and relied upon ever since.” 

In November 2013, Timbisha Shoshone tribal leaders won a small victory when the BIA called off an identical election due to grave procedural problems.  These leaders are now continuing their fight to protect the tribe’s right of self-government, including its right to determine for itself, without BIA interference, who is a member of the Tribe.

The Timbisha Shoshone are based in Death Valley, California and have struggled to retain and regain their homelands and exercise self-determination for at least 165 years.  Despite their success in gaining federal recognition and recovering a small portion of their lands, the BIA insists on treating the tribe unfairly.  They deposed the legitimate government in 2010, and have since required that non-members be allowed to vote and hold office in the tribe.  This election is simply another attempt to legitimize these wrongful actions and replace Timbisha membership laws with the BIA’s arbitrary preference.