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RST GOVERNMENT FAILS ATTEMPT TO REIN-IN LAKOTA VOICE WEBSITE

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By Gregg Bear

ROSEBUD — An emotional effort by the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council recently to have its attorney general launch an official probe into an online news blog and its editor was narrowly defeated in council chambers by a 6-5 vote.

The Aug. 25 attempt by a perturbed Rep. Alvin Bettelyoun to compel AG Aisha Concha to conduct an official inquiry into LakotaVoice.com website and its outspoken editor would have set chilling new precedence in curbing free speech and free press on the reservation, say political observers.

At a special meeting in Rosebud, President Cyril Scott, Bettelyoun and several council colleagues claimed the news blog, among other things, made the tribe “look bad” in Washington, D.C., through its controversial news and opinions.

According to insiders, tribal officials worry behind closed doors that accusatory opinions on the Internet and coming from tribal members could jeopardize future funding and make officials the butt of jokes, affecting their ability to lead.

Rep. Bettelyoun’s motion also included the website’s contentious editor and publisher, Ann-erika White Bird, an enrolled member now living in Two Strike, who officials maintain writes stories often filled with errors.

The primary purpose of an investigation ostensibly was to determine how LakotaVoice.com was allegedly obtaining information from RST Council’s executive sessions.

At the meeting, Rep. Bettelyoun, when asked, objected to the council giving White Bird the allotted five minutes to refute allegations against her website. She was denied the floor according to controversial council rules which allows any council member to object to a tribal member speaking.

Tribal officials also were careful not to say publicly what the classified information was about, what stories were involved, or say whether anything appeared in published reports written by Rep. Calvin Waln, Antelope. Some officials admitted to having personal misgivings with Waln’s writings.

The popular Sicangu Sun Times Newspaper was not mentioned at this meeting, an official said, though Waln’s reports appear in that publication too, which includes an Internet outlet.

The RST Council’s Aug. 25 motion may have met defeat, in part, because no one could readily say information from executive session was actually published in Lakota Voice, nor was anyone prepared to declassify information to prove to the tribal public that a breach had occurred.

The only representatives to speak in support of free press and free speech were Rep. Richard Lunderman and Rep. Calvin Waln. Both regularly submit monthly council reports for publication.

Six voting against the Lakota Voice probe were:

Reps. Webster Two Hawk, Richard Lunderman, Mary Waln, Opal Larvie Maxey, Calvin Waln, William BearShield.

Five voting in favor of the investigation:

Reps. Alvin Bettelyoun, Kathy High Pipe, Rose Stenstrom, Robert Shot With 2 Arrows, Lydia Whirlwind Soldier.

Roll Call Vote: MOTION DEFEATED.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the years, RST elected officials have lapsed into the abusive habit of rushing into executive session over anything deemed "confidential" or whatever someone thinks the tribal public shouldn’t be allowed to hear. No one ever objects. In a normal world, executive sessions are used only to discuss personnel matters, and nothing remotely political or requiring secrecy. Corruption begins when council members fail to police themselves, and the perception of crookedness soon emerges. As a governing body, to discuss important business or legal strategy in private—it should be announced and included in the regular agenda, given a time limit of one hour, and strictly upheld by the sergeant-at-arms. The RST Council also has a business hat under which to reconvene for business plans and strategy. This can be on the agenda as well or conducted separately. If members organized meetings in planned, closely regulated and more transparent way, the perception of corruption that presently dogs this governing body would soon drop away, regaining more respect from the tribal public. Following these suggestions could result in much needed tribal business getting accomplished.

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