The U.S. Interior Department has ruled that former Chippewa Cree tribal Chairman Ken Blatt St. Marks was ousted from his job illegally in 2013.
John Paul Schmidt, a staff writer with the Havre Daily News, says St. Marks was voted out when he was helping federal investigators look into missing money from a pipeline project on the Chippewa-Cree Reservation.
“This is all from St. Marks working with the Office of Inspector General concerning the misappropriation of federal funds given to the tribe to complete this water project," Schmidt said.
About a dozen people have been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges over the awarding of construction contracts and kickbacks paid to tribal officials. The Interior Department ruled that St. Marks qualified for protection under federal whistleblower laws.
Schmidt says the ruling doesn’t automatically reinstate St Marks, but leaves the next step up the tribe and its former chairman.
“What they’re doing is they’re issuing a kind of recommendation to the Chippewa Cree Tribe, and the options they have to take to give him relief are either to reinstate him or give him back pay for the time that he spent out of his office.”
St. Marks has fifteen days to decide whether to seek reinstatement or settle for back pay. The tribe will have fifteen days after that to respond.