BIA says it recognizes new Seneca-Cayuga chief

Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) 8-08

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has said it recognizes the new chief of an Oklahoma-based tribe that has been embroiled in an intertribal dispute.

Jennette Hatta, the director of BIA’s regional office in Muskogee, said in a letter to Seneca-Cayuga tribal chief LeRoy Howard that the agency has upheld Howard’s election as interim chief. The letter said the BIA would recognize Howard while a dispute involving his election is resolved.

The dispute came to a head after a tribal court ordered that a June meeting of the tribe’s General Council, mandated by the tribe’s constitution, be delayed because of a lawsuit filed by the Miami-based tribe’s former chief, Paul Spicer, against several council members.

The council consists of all tribal members age 18 and older with voting rights. On June 7, 60 council members ignored the tribal court’s order and met. At the meeting, resolutions passed that abolished the tribal court system, accepted Spicer’s resignation and elected Howard as chief. 


The BIA letter said that the meeting was valid, because at the time Spicer’s lawsuit was filed, the federal agency did not recognize the tribal court’s order.

“In view of the Region’s decision to not recognize the November 15, 2007, Order of the Tribal Court, the validity of the Council to hold the June 7, 2008, annual meeting and the business conducted at that meeting is not an issue with the Region,” the letter stated.

During the June 7 council meeting, when mail-in election results indicated that Howard would be voted in as chief, Spicer withdrew his resignation. The newly elected tribal government moved into tribal headquarters and took control, but Spicer began firing tribal employees. Several of them received $20,000 severance checks from Spicer before the new government could stop him issuing the checks.

Spicer later obtained a tribal court order, indicating tribal authority would have to be returned to him before the tribal election could be certified. The BIA said in a July 11 letter that that order was not valid, because it was from a case filed before the BIA recognized the tribal court on Jan. 1.

Seneca-Cayuga Second Chief Katie Birdsong said the election results since have been certified by the General Council. Neither Spicer nor his attorney could be reached for comment, but Spicer previously has said he plans to appeal the BIA’s ruling made in the July 11 letter.