From what I gather, there are enough of us Spirit Lake Tribal Members who want the Woodlake tribal council representative to step down due to his having been convicted of a sexual assault (misdemeanor). As a result, a Special General Assembly is scheduled on Monday to bring the issue before the people for discussion.
There is nothing in our tribal Constitution that addresses misdemeanor sexual crimes and/or convictions. A councilman or woman has to be convicted of a felony while in office before they can be forced to step down. This is probably why the Woodlake rep hasn't stepped down although he has been asked to.
And, I'm sure this is the reason many of his friends, relatives and even some of his constituents feel that it is not anybody's business but theirs if they want him to continue to serve as their councilman even after his sexual assault conviction became public. After all, they probably reason, it's a misdemeanor not a felony.
However, there is a difference between what is morally right and what is legally right. And, as Dakota people we know that many times what is morally right is more important than what is legally right.
It is this knowledge of what is moral and immoral, that is putting us tribal members who are not from the Woodlake district in this (moral) dilemma: We do not want someone who was convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense to represent our tribe, yet we respect the fact that it should be up to the people of Woodlake District to have him resign.
Or, does our unease regarding the morality of the Wood Lake District rep's conviction of sexual assault allow us to trump the rights of the people who reside in Wood Lake? They want to have who they want to represent them regardless of his conduct. And we want to remove him from office.
My answer is yes. I believe the Woodlake Representative's conduct that resulted in his conviction rises to a level of immorality that the decision whether or not he should remain in office should not be left just to Woodlake. Instead I believe that all Districts should have a say in whether or not he stays if office or he steps down. Here are my reasons:
1. Although we lose sight of it, one of the primary functions of political leaders is to be role models for the young people in our communities. It is my belief this representative has failed in this. We should not allow a man who hurt women and/or children lead our people because men in our culture hold women and children sacred.
2. Is his misdemeanor a signpost as to who he really is? This is a valid concern, as many people believe sex offenders have a different moral compass than the rest of us. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves these questions: Has he performed his job in an exemplary manner? Has he earned the respect and trust of all tribal members, not just his friends and relatives from his district?
3. We need to know the specifics of his conduct that led to his conviction. Was his conduct morally revolting enough so that people who voted for him would not have done so had they known of his conviction? At the minimum, he needs to come clean; at the upcoming meeting he should tell what happened that resulted in his conviction.
4. In my opinion, he committed fraud to win the election. If my memory serves me right he won by an extremely narrow margin. How many voters would not have voted for him had they known of his sexual assault conviction? I would be willing to go out on a limb and say he would not have won the election had voters known about his conviction.
5. He is bringing shame to the Spirit Lake Nation, as he is not only representing Woodlake District but all Spirit Lakers when he travels. Can you imagine what people will think of us when they learn one of our council members was convicted of sexual assault? One SL elder winyan said to me "OMG, he needs to be out, it's embarrassing! Even stealing is better than sexual assault."
6. Finally, what kind of message are we sending to our women when a man can abuse them and then be held in high esteem by holding office in the community?
I understand there will be individuals who will want him to remain in his position. However, I am sure those reasons are mainly of a selfish nature. They probably are expecting favors or some other preferential treatment from him, which is why they will continue to support him. However, it is time for the rest of us tribal members to hold our tribal council members to high standards. If we would hold them to high standards, we would be making one more step to better government. And, this is a good start.
In closing, one thing is certain this controversy will not go away if the Woodlake rep does not step down. It will continue to dog the Woodlake Rep and the Tribal Council diminishing their effectiveness and their reputation. Therefore, I call on our Tribal Chairman and the rest of the tribal council members to join with the majority of us tribal members and publicly call for the Woodlake rep to resign. Without this sordid incident hanging over their heads, the tribal council will be able to move for forward and conduct business with one less distraction.