‘It’s Final’

Crow general council votes to recall chairman, secretary
Thursday, January 24, 2019
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Photo by Andrew Turck

Crow Tribal Chief of Police Terrill Bracken (center) tries to move through a group of general council members in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building Saturday afternoon to serve a restraining order against Vice Chairman Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead and Vice Secretary Shawn Backbone. As this occurred during that day's general council meeting, event emcee Donald Spotted Tail read the charges over a microphone. Eventually, Bracken and Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid (obscured by the crowd) were turned away and the document ripped apart.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead, newly sworn in as chairman for the Crow Tribe, speaks to his constituents Tuesday on subjects including the importance of transparency and the right to vote.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid gives his six-month report at the Multipurpose Building in Crow Agency during Saturday’s meeting of the general council.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Shawn Backbone smiles Tuesday afternoon at the Crow Legislative Branch office while listening to a praise song by elder and Korean War veteran Ronnie Stewart. The song was performed in honor of Backbone being sworn in as acting secretary for the Crow Tribe and Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead (second from left) being sworn in as acting chairman.

In a historic vote on Saturday recognized by the Crow Legislative Branch, the tribe’s chairman and secretary appear to have been replaced following the first public recall election of Executive Branch officials since the establishment of the 2001 Crow Constitution.

By Tuesday afternoon, tribal senators hosted a ceremony at their legislative chamber in Crow Agency, where Speaker of the House Frank White Clay swore in Vice Chairman Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead as the new acting chairman and Vice Secretary Shawn Backbone as the new acting secretary.

“The constitution says – explicitly – it’s final with the general council,” Goes Ahead said, referring to enrolled members eligible to vote. “We are in power now, definitely. There’s no way around it.”

Reading the poll results to a packed chamber of more than 50 people, Backbone said his fellow Crow members had voted 1,063-63 in favor of removing Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid Jr. and 894-107 in favor of removing Secretary Knute Old Crow. Both elections, according to the legislature, fall within constitutional parameters – 25 percent of the general council must vote and the petition must pass with a two-thirds majority.

“You made history…you didn’t sit on a fence and look around,” Backbone told the audience. “You drew the line and took a stance, and that’s where we are today.”

At a Saturday meeting of the Crow Tribal General Council, members physically “drew the line” in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building when Not Afraid attempted to halt nearby voting polls. 

Goes Ahead and Backbone, following a Jan. 3 petition seeking the recall, had opened polls that morning due left of the building’s front entrance. Since about 9 a.m. that day, a steady stream of tribal members arrived at tables to vote by secret ballot. Early into his speech, Not Afraid told the election’s organizers to close the polls, to no avail.

“The vote is out of order,” he said to the sounds of clapping and cheering, along with arguing from the crowd. “It requires the secretary of the Crow Tribe, who oversees all elections, as per the constitution and as per ordinance.

“We jumped the gun on this vote. You’re still welcome to participate in the future…but meanwhile, this is nonexistent today, so I apologize.”

Not Afraid stated Friday in a petition for a temporary restraining order that Goes Ahead and Backbone directed accusations for the recall – including “misuse of tribal funds” and “abuse of authority” – purely at him and not Old Crow. They added the secretary to their removal petition, he contended, not out of alleged wrongdoing, but because Old Crow wouldn’t go along with their attempt to oust the chairman.

“With no statement of charges provided against Secretary Old Crow,” the document states, “the vice chairman and vice secretary demonstrate clear intent to circumvent the unanimous vote requirement of the constitution.”

Amid the sounds of drumming, cheering and heckling from a crowd of hundreds, the meeting ended in dramatic fashion as both Not Afraid and Crow Tribal Chief of Police Terrill Bracken attempted to forge a path through a gathering of people who had no intention of letting them pass. Their objective was to serve Goes Ahead and Backbone with an approved restraining order, drafted Friday and signed by Crow Associate Judge Elishah Reevis.

The order stated that Goes Ahead and Backbone – standing roughly 30 feet away – were to avoid Not Afraid and Old Crow’s “person to include public and tribal government functions.” To comply, for election organizers, would necessitate closing the polls.

In a fiery speech, Goes Ahead told the audience the general council had been “activated” by his and Backbone’s petition and therefore the election couldn’t stop.

“The tribal general council…is his boss – and you are my boss – so you got every right to vote!” Goes Ahead yelled over continuous cheering. “He cannot violate that civil right!”

Tribal members opposing Not Afraid stood their ground. Over the sounds of further cheering, Conrad “C.J.” Stewart, a former legislator from the Black Lodge District, mentioned the Legislative Branch had “established a vote of no confidence” in the chairman.

“Voting polls are still open!” he yelled during a shouting match with event emcee Donald Spotted Tail. Raising his own voice from the Multipurpose Building stage, the miked Spotted Tail read a copy of the restraining order, quoting it as stating if Goes Ahead and Backbone continued their actions, it appeared “the plaintiff [would] suffer immediate and irreparable injury or harm.”

As Stewart and Spotted Tail continued to talk over each other in voices that grew into a crescendo, Not Afraid and Bracken broke off from the gathered tribal members and headed for the exit. 

“My sister…has those papers right now and we don’t recognize those papers,” Stewart said of the restraining order. “Tear those papers up.”