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Yankton Sioux Tribe leaders suspended for alleged misconduct

WAGNER -- The vice chairwoman and five other members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe Business and Claims Committee have been suspended without pay for misconduct after allegedly trying to cancel a meeting of the tribe's General Council without the authority to do so.

Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Thurman Cournoyer Sr. said Vice Chairwoman Ida Ashes and all five Business and Claims Committee members -- Jason Cooke, Jody Zephier, Gail Hubbeling, Brenda Zephier and Nick Cournoyer -- were suspended Friday without pay for 30 days by the tribe's General Council.

The General Council is made up of all tribal members and oversees the Business and Claims Committee. The chairman, vice chairman and council members serve on the Business and Claims Committee. Cournoyer suspected the suspended tribal leaders tried to cancel the General Council meeting in an attempt to prevent friends and relatives from being fired from the tribe-run Fort Randall Casino near Wagner.

"There is no other reason why they would cancel this meeting," he said Monday in a phone interview with The Daily Republic.

Cournoyer, council treasurer Lee O'Connor and tribal secretary Glenford "Sam" Sully will be the only tribal officers on duty while the remaining council members serve their suspensions. Cournoyer said rumors of council misconduct have been swirling for some time.

"We're going through turmoil over here," he said.

The suspensions stem from a June 12 Business and Claims Committee meeting at which Ashes and the other committee members canceled a General Council meeting scheduled to take place two days later. The committee does not have the authority to cancel a General Council meeting, Cournoyer said.

"According to our constitution, the General Council is the law of the land," he said. "When they set a meeting, it can't be canceled."

If the suspended council members refuse to leave the tribe's headquarters by today, Cournoyer said they would be escorted out by law enforcement. He has also asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Yankton Sioux Tribal Police Department to issue restraining orders to keep the suspended council members out of the offices.

It is undecided whether further action will be taken against the council members, Cournoyer said.

"It depends on how far they want to push this," he said. "They are suspended and have no authority to do anything. If they attempt to, they could be removed permanently."

After the 30 days are up, Cournoyer said another General Council meeting will be held to determine the fate of the suspended council members.