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Wadena's challenge rejected



MAHNOMEN, Minn. - A judge rejected Darrell "Chip" Wadena's bid Wednesday to overturn a June 8 election in which voters elected Erma Vizenor as chairwoman of the White Earth Band of Chippewa.

Vizenor's victory more than two weeks ago turned back a bid by Wadena to reclaim his job for the tribe's top post.

During a two-hour hearing at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Betty Laverdure, a judge from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, listened as Wadena explained 11 areas of concern regarding how the election was conducted.

In the end, Laverdure rejected all of Wadena's challenges and upheld the election.

Wadena said after the hearing he may file a second appeal for review by a panel of judges from other Minnesota Chippewa bands.


Outside of the hearing room, Vizenor said she was very happy Laverdure confirmed "the credibility of our elections."

Vizenor, who is scheduled to assume her new post July 13, captured 59 percent of the votes to beat Wadena, who held the title of chairman for 20 years before his defeat at the polls in 1996.

That same year, Wadena was convicted of 15 federal charges, many of them having to do with misapplying tribal funds. He spent more than three years in prison and was ordered to repay the tribe $585,000.

During this year's campaign, Vizenor sent out mailings encouraging tribal members living off the reservation to vote. She ended up garnering 879 absentee votes to Wadena's 176.

Wadena filed papers with the tribe June 14 contesting various aspects of the election, including how the election board handled absentee ballots.

Wadena said he questioned whether people who voted by absentee ballot actually requested the ballots.

He said he may file another appeal based on a claim that off-reservation voting is not legal under the tribe's constitution.

"The constitution specifically says you must have residency on the reservation in order to vote," Wadena said.


Laverdure, who declined to comment after the hearing, has until today to officially file her decision with White Earth election officials, said Earl Hoagland, head of the tribe's election board.

Hoagland answered many of Wadena's questions at the hearing and said afterward that Wadena presented no evidence or witnesses to back up claims absentee votes were handled improperly.

"We had a very accurate and honest election," Hoagland said, adding that of the more than 1,000 absentee votes cast, 35 ballots were rejected because they either were not signed by a notary republic or the voter's signature did not match the signature that officials had on file.

Wadena has until Monday to appeal Laverdure's decision, Hoagland said.

If an appeal is filed, a hearing would have to be held within seven days and the hearing would be presided over by other Minnesota Chippewa band judges, Hoagland said.

Laverdure limited attendance at Wednesday's hearing to 50 people and ordered reporters kept out.

Wally Ann Warren, an enrolled member of the tribe from the White Earth area, was among those who did not make it inside.

She said the snub was a violation of her rights.


"I just feel it (the hearing) should be open, especially to those who are tribal members," Warren said.

"I believe in democracy," Warren said. "I can't understand why the media can't come in and let the rest of our members know what happened at the hearing."

Delores Rousu, of Callaway, another enrolled member of the tribe, also was upset about being denied a spot in the hearing room.

"We all have a right to hear what's going on," she said.

Rousu, who said she supported Wadena for chairman, said Vizenor should "give Chip one of the top jobs on the reservation, because he's got a big bill to pay."

Rousu said many on the reservation do not hold Wadena's criminal convictions against him.

"We all have a tendency to make mistakes," she said. "He's helped this reservation so much."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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