White Earth tribal leader ousted

MAHNOMEN, Minn. (AP) — When Eugene “Bugger” McArthur took over as chairman of the White Earth Band of Chippewa, he pledged to reform tribal government following the corruption convictions of several leaders.
Now, tribal officials have ousted him, alleging he hired according to political patronage and paid for votes.
“The winds have changed. People are more aware of how government was being run. They’re tired of it,” McArthur said just after the 1996 election.
At a meeting in the auditorium of the Shooting Star Casino on Wednesday, former Tribal Council allies voted 4-0 to kick out McArthur and replace him with district Representative John Buckanaga in the interim.
At the meeting, tribal members said patronage hiring and firing continues. One woman said she was fired from a casino job because she asked an underage son of a council member for identification when he walked into the casino. The council member denied the claim.
Tribal Secretary-Treasurer Erma Vizenor said the council started to split last year from McArthur, whom she accuses of filling jobs on the sly with friends and relatives. “He fell into this old system of firing and hiring without informing the rest of us,” she said.
McArthur didn’t respond to accusations against him at the meeting. But last week he sent a letter to tribal employees suggesting that “certain incumbents” gave out “wild rice, venison, freezers, refrigerators, cash gifts, car repairs and numerous other benefits” to members to buy votes.
McArthur refused to acknowledge Wednesday’s vote. He and many of his supporters marched out before the vote, saying the council lacked the authority to oust him. He also hinted at appealing to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe or the federal government.
A representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Minnesota did not immediately return a telephone call Thursday, and it was unclear whom the agency recognized as chairman.
The accusations against McArthur and the vote to oust him come as a surprise to some observers. When he took power two years ago, McArthur was expected to make a clean sweep of the tribe’s government.
In June 1996, then-Chairman Darrell “Chip” Wadena, Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Rawley and Council Member Rick Clark were convicted in federal court of a bid-rigging scheme and of skimming casino profits.
During the trial, McArthur defeated Wadena for chairman, and Buckanaga replaced Clark in an election. But some election losers appealed, triggering a procedure that can take months to resolve and might have allowed the convicted trio to remain in office in the meantime. McArthur and Buckanaga seized power and appointed Vizenor and Irene Auginaush-Hvezda to finish the terms of Rawley and Clark.
In January, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe censured McArthur for taking office before the tribe’s election appeals process ran its course.