Tribal elders back chairman; seek attorney suspension
NEW TOWN, N.D. — Tribal elders here defended Chairman Tex Hall on Thursday and requested the tribal attorney be suspended for what they called unethical behavior and insubordination toward the chairman.
The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Elders Organization brought a resolution to the Tribal Business Council seeking a 30-day suspension of Damon Williams, the attorney for the tribe.
Three Affiliated Tribes elder Ramona Two Shields said Williams was disrespectful in a Jan. 31 meeting when he got into a verbal confrontation with Hall during a discussion about amendments to an ethics ordinance.
Elders said Williams wrongly advised a few council members that an emergency existed with the tribal ethics ordinance, which allowed discussion of the amendments without the proper public notice procedure.
The amendments, which were approved, related to defining conflicts of interest for public employees, an issue Hall has received criticism for after his company, Maheshu Energy, was linked to a criminal investigation.
The elders also questioned other incidents involving Williams, including a letter he wrote questioning the results of a federally certified election without consulting Hall.
No member of the Tribal Business Council made a motion to support the elders’ resolution, so the effort did not move forward. However, Two Shields said the group may pursue other avenues.
Hall said he was glad the elders shed light on the need to establish a process when there is a divide on the council.
In an interview later Thursday, Williams said he considered the exchange between him and Hall to be natural dialog, not a confrontation.
“I take great pride in my professionalism,” Williams said. “I was just doing what I was told by my client, which is the entire Tribal Business Council.”
Also at the Jan. 31 meeting, a resolution to suspend Hall and investigate a contract involving the tribe and a company associated with James Henrikson, who is charged with felony weapons charges and linked to a murder-for-hire case in Spokane, Wash., was defeated by the Tribal Business Council.
In interviews, members of the MHA Elders Organization, which has representation across the Fort Berthold Reservation, said they support Hall’s leadership.
“He is looking out for everyone,” said Donna Morgan, chairperson of the group. “These other ones (council members) are looking out for themselves only.”
Elder John Danks said he applauds Hall and the council members for establishing what is known as the People’s Fund to sustain the tribe in the future.
“The tribe’s financially solvent and the Tribal Council manages our resources,” Danks said. “Our oil resource is what has generated this revenue. This resource is finite and we must put some aside.”
Danks said Hall owned the oilfield service business when tribal members elected him, and Hall doesn’t give up his right to engage in economic activity because he’s on the council.
Another Tribal Business Council member, Mervin Packineau of Parshall, also is listed on the tribe’s list of certified Indian contractors as owner of U.S. Sand LLC, which sells sand for hydraulic fracturing.
The specific changes to the tribe’s ethics ordinance approved by the council were not available Thursday because the resolution was approved but had not been signed, said Glenda Baker-Embry, spokeswoman for the tribe.
Majel Russell, an attorney who does some work on probate and enrollment issues for the tribe, told the Tribal Business Council she is interested in serving as a special prosecutor to handle ethics complaints, a position that had been advertised but not filled.
But Russell said the ethics ordinance would first need revisions to be more transparent, establish how a hearing process would work and define a protocol for a separate body to hear complaints that relate to the Tribal Business Council.