Most indoor and outdoor group activities have been canceled this summer due to the coronavirus and Blackfeet Ordinance 121. However, allowances were made to permit the Blackfeet Primary and General elections to be held as per constitutional requirements. Drive-up voting was offered at the Stick Game Arbor in Browning and at other locations in the surrounding communities, and folks watched on Facebook to learn the results.
The elections inevitably led to the Inaugural Ceremonies, which would normally be held in the Dance Arbor on the morning of the first day of North American Indian Days. This year, however, much discussion was held concerning exactly where and how to hold them, with NAID having been canceled. Some Council members favored an outdoor ceremony in All Chiefs Park with restrictions on who could attend and where they could locate themselves. Others felt it too dangerous to risk an outdoor ceremony and favored a shortened ceremony to be held in the Council Conference Room with fewer people allowed inside. Both options included coverage on Facebook and Starlink Cable, as well as KBWG FM radio.
The final decision was not reached until shortly before the ceremony was slated to start, moving the proceedings into the Conference Room. The tipping point, according to James McNeely, was the potential for large numbers of people gathering to watch the outdoor ceremonies, even if they were kept outside of the fence surrounding the park.
The five continuing Council members - Tim Davis, Iliff “Scott” Kipp Sr., Stacey Keller, Vera Weaselhead, Mark Pollock and “Minnow” Gervais - were in attendance, as well as three incoming Councilmen – Lauren Monroe Jr., Marvin Weatherwax Jr. and Virgil Last Star. All the outgoing Councilmen were invited, but only Terry Tatsey was on hand.
Separate tables were set around the room, one for each Council member, appropriately distanced. Everyone wore masks and everyone’s temperature was taken before the ceremony started.
Still Chairman, Tim Davis conducted the meeting while Becky Rosenberger of Tribal Documents, Election Committee Chairman Steve Fenner and Judge Carl Pepion officiated the proceedings. A large video streaming perch was in place, along with a big screen television that showed what folks watching from afar were seeing.
Chairman Davis began by declaring the 2018-20 BTBC officially ended. The swearing-in consisted of all four incoming Councilmen taking the oath at one time, then individually coming forward to sign the documents to make it official.
Having completed their oaths, the new Council members took their seats and moved on to voting in members of the Executive Committee. Nominations for Chairman went to Tim Davis and Mark Pollock, with the former continuing as Chairman on a 5-4 vote. Similarly, Scott Kipp retained his Vice-Chairmanship on a 5-4 vote over Stacey Keller. Finally, newcomer Lauren Monroe was named Secretary over Mark Pollock, again on a 5-4 vote.
Many thoughts were offered in the speeches that followed. Most remarked on how unusual the ceremony was and how much they said they would miss the traditional feast normally held after Inauguration. Most also referenced the strength of the Blackfeet people, who have survived starvation and disease in the past.
Regarding the CARES Act funding the Tribe received, Davis said the Council had chosen not to decide where to focus their spending so as not to unduly influence the outcome of the election. Several members spoke in favor of helping the people of the reservation with rent and utilities during the shutdown. Support was also reiterated for a proposed fuel kiosk and high speed internet in the small community of Heart Butte.
Finally, McNeely held a brief naming ceremony for Mark Pollock, sending him forth with the name “Bull Shoe.”
In the end, following pictures and selfies, everyone retreated to their own homes for individual feasting until the next morning when the new BTBC would meet to address the many issues facing Blackfeet Country.