Yankton Sioux Tribe prepares for transition in leadershipChairman-elect asks outgoing officials not to attend ceremony.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
WAGNER — A new Yankton Sioux Tribe headquarters is opening at the same time a new tribal chairman is taking office.
Thurman Cournoyer Sr. and other officials who were elected on Sept. 1 will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Friday at the Wagner National Guard Armory, 610 E. South Dakota Highway 46.
“I’m kind of excited more than nervous,” Cournoyer said. “I’m just hoping that some of the old council doesn’t come and ruin it. We’ve been feuding.”
Outgoing chairman Robert Cournoyer and other members of the tribal government who were not re-elected are not invited, Thurman Cournoyer.
He said he wrote a letter to Robert Cournoyer, his first cousin, and asked him not to attend the ceremony.
“I hope they honor it and let us have our inauguration,” Thurman Cournoyer said Tuesday. “They had their ceremony two years ago.”
The event is open to the public, however, so nothing prevents Robert Cournoyer and the other outgoing officials from attending. Robert Cournoyer could not be reached for comment.
He sought a fourth term in the July primary but didn’t qualify for the general election. Thurman Cournoyer Sr. defeated Galen Drapeau Jr. for the chairmanship on Sept. 1.
Karen Archambeau was defeated by Ida Ashes Brown for vice chairman.
Leo O’Connor, the council treasurer, was re-elected, besting Roxanne Spotted Eagle.
Glenford “Sam” Sully is the new tribal secretary after defeating incumbent Lisa Arrow.
Council members are Jason Cooke, Jody Zephier, Gail Hubbeling, Brenda Zephier and Nick Cournoyer. All but Jody Zephier are newcomers.
Herb Hare has been named chairman of the Election Board. On Friday, Hare will swear in Ashes Brown, who will then swear in the other officials.
The chairman, vice chairman and council members serve on the tribe’s Business and Claims Committee, which is the Yankton Sioux tribal council.
The committee is overseen by the General Council, which is made up of all tribal members.
On Sept. 14, the General Council met at the tribally owned Fort Randall Casino.
Proponents of the newly elected officials sought to have them sworn into office immediately, even though the tribe had scheduled the Sept. 30 ceremony.
Robert Cournoyer and other tribal leaders said the effort to replace them before the scheduled end of their terms was an illegal action.
They refused to allow it and there was a threat of a confrontation at the temporary tribal headquarters on Sept. 15.
The temporary headquarters are in the upper floors of the Marty Indian School. After a flood last summer, the tribal headquarters were deemed unusable and tribal business has been conducted from offices on the second and third floors of the high school.
On Sept. 15, after an angry telephone exchange between the outgoing and newly elected chairmen, Robert Cournoyer and other tribal officials decided to lock the doors to their offices and call the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police.
The elementary, middle and high schools as well as the administration building were all locked because of a perceived impending threat, tribal officials said. The confrontation didn’t occur, and after two hours, the schools were unlocked.
Both men claimed the chairmanship and both issued letters to the tribe later that day.
Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said he wanted to take office to prevent outgoing tribal officials from issuing themselves large checks.
“They’ve accepted some severance pay they’ve awarded themselves,” he said. “It’s common knowledge. Everybody knows it.”
He said some of the checks are for $7,000 but the outgoing officials are having trouble cashing them.
Thurman Cournoyer said he doesn’t feel the officials have the right to issue the payments.
“No, no they don’t,” he said. “That’s what the big fight is about.”
Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said he will examine if the payments can be halted or paid back once he takes office.
“It’d probably be too late but we will see what our legal options are,” he said.
Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said he remains surprised things have gone so sour since the election. He and Robert have known each other their entire lives, he said, and met after the election to discuss a transition.
“I thought we had a decent talk, kind of buried the hatchet,” Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said. “Most of this stuff is political. I don’t have personal feelings on this.”
He said he’s not even sure how much he will be paid once he takes office and no one is willing to tell him.
“The former chairman, when we were talking, I think he said he was getting $47,000 a year and the council people were getting a little less,” he said.
Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said after the public and private disagreements on Sept. 14 and 15, efforts to formally seat the newly elected officials early were then ended and they decided to take office Friday and get to work Monday.
He said he, Ashes Brown and two members of the council, Jason Cooke and Nick Cournoyer, his nephew, were sworn in on Sept. 14 and he feels they are the real leaders of the tribe.
“I am the chairman,” Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said.
But he said since other officials decided not to take their oaths of office, the new government could not take action.
They will be fully empowered on Friday morning, Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said.
“It’s a ceremony,” he said of the Friday morning event. “We have some different speakers from different reservations come in and we will have a keynote speaker.”
There will be a swearing-in ceremony, star quilts will be awarded, an honor song will be performed and then a meal will be served.
On Monday morning, Thurman Cournoyer Sr. and the other new tribal officials will move into the new headquarters at 801 Main St. in Wagner.
The building is another temporary step for the tribe, according to Carmen Ashes, a personnel office assistant who was involved in transferring tribal government documents and equipment from the school in Marty to the new facility in Wagner.
Ashes said another building will be opened for a permanent headquarters but the tribe will operate out of their new offices for at least a year or two.