FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 8, 2010
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT STOPS BALLOT ELECTION
ANADARKO, Oklahoma—A judge with the U.S. Interior Department used federal powers to stop a ballot election from being held by the Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma. Federal orders kept Kiowas from going to the polls and exercising their rights to vote since March, in a special election that would have decided whether to recall Don Tofpi as Kiowa Business Committee Chairman and ban him from holding future office.
Judge Phil Lujan, with the BIA’s Court of Indian Offenses, commonly known as CFR Court, issued Temporary Restraining Orders and Injunctions against the Kiowa Hearing Board and the Kiowa Election Board that restrain them from completing their duties in the recall election of Chairman Don Tofpi, until such time as the orders are further modified by the Court.
For more than a month, federal injunctions on the election remain in full force and effect, essentially shutting down the Tribe’s ability to function as a constitutional democracy. According to Judge Lujan’s decree, violation of the orders by either of the Kiowa Boards, or their members individually, will be punishable by the Court in contempt actions.
Don Tofpi asked Judge Lujan to enforce the Temporary Restraining Orders and Injunctions, after evidence presented in constitutional recall proceedings, and a vote by the Kiowa Hearing Board, did not go his way. Judge Lujan issued CFR Court orders right before the recall was to go to the Kiowa Indian Council for a vote. The Kiowa Indian Council is composed of enrolled tribal members at least 18 years old, and is recognized as the sovereign governing body of the Tribe by federal and state governments.
With the federal orders in effect, Don Tofpi continues to occupy the Chairman’s position on the Kiowa Business Committee. Recently, he has been spending his time and the Tribe’s money traveling to various cities, including Tulsa and Los Angeles, reportedly recruiting support for a new constitution and a new casino.
Many Kiowa members living outside Hobart and Lawton, the places where papers published news about the recall, said they were unaware of the recall or what charges are pending against Chairman Tofpi.
Documents presented in a formal recall hearing in March reveal 21 charges against Tofpi, filed by Charles “Buddy” Toyebo, former Vice Chairman of the Kiowa Business Committee. The charges allege malfeasance in office, intentional violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), unauthorized control of Kiowa gaming, and attempting to abolish the Kiowa constitution and its tribal governing structure as a democracy, where final authority rests with the Kiowa Indian Council not the Kiowa Business Committee.
“Mr. Tofpi, with the support of the Kiowa Business Committee and in partnership with the CFR court, and by extension the BIA, has chosen to assure he remains in office by a non-Tribal means,” wrote Lee Rhoades, a Kiowa Indian Council member, in a letter to the Director of the BIA Southern Plains Regional Office. “[They] have made the Kiowa Tribe wards of the government.”
The government connections in this case literally lead to the same federal agency in Anadarko, Oklahoma at the United States Department of the Interior. Don Tofpi, prior to his position with the Kiowa, was a career employee at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The same U.S. Department that runs the CFR Court in Anadarko where Judge Lujan is located. Judge Phil Lujan, in addition to his role on the bench, is also an enrolled Kiowa, registered to vote in tribal elections.
Objecting to the judge’s jurisdiction, Lee Rhoades called the restraining order “an assault on the sovereignty of the Tribe.” He cites U.S. federal law 25 CFR 11.118, which states in part, “a Court of Indian Offenses may not adjudicate an election dispute, take jurisdiction over a suit against a tribe, or adjudicate any internal tribal government dispute, unless the relevant tribal governing body passes a resolution, ordinance or referendum granting the court jurisdiction.”
According to Rhoades, “no issue concerning CFR Court jurisdiction has been brought to the Kiowa Indian Council to vote upon, let alone approve.”
Kiowa Indian Council member Deborah Cocker points to Judge Lujan’s past decision record, and the impact his federal powers might have on the Kiowa’s future. “Similar actions to this current restraint on the Kiowa constitutional process were enacted by the CFR under Lujan’s direction in the past and overturned through BIA directive,” said Ms. Cocker.
“The upcoming tribal election has been adversely affected,” she said.
Just days ago, Don Tofpi used the federal government’s orders as a legal basis for declaring his eligibility in the upcoming election since no recall has yet been held, and filed papers with the Kiowa Election Board seeking another term as Chairman.
Media contact information:
Charles “Buddy” Toyebo (Kiowa)
Former Vice Chairman
Kiowa Business Committee
Lee Rhoades (Kiowa)
Kiowa Casino Operating Authority
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