MIAMI, Okla. –Several members of the Modoc Nation held a sit-in in front of tribal office doors on Friday after learning nearly three-quarters of the tribe’s enrollment was disqualified from membership sending the annual tribal election into a tailspin.
What is at stake – only tribal members are allowed to vote in the tribe’s Annual Meeting and election of the Elected Council – which is set for August 6, a postponement from May 7.
“Our tribal constitution states that our elections and annual meetings are to be held the first Saturday in May,” said Ben Karnes, newly elected second chief. “Two weeks before May 7, the elected council had an audit and then declared the election and meeting would be postponed.”
The independent audit by Wipfli LLP showed “an unacceptable number of enrollment applications forwarded to the Enrollment Committee by the Tribal Registrar contained irregularities, inaccuracies, and incomplete information,” according to the statement posted on the tribe’s website.
Karnes and the newly elected council believe the audit is flawed and serves as a smokescreen.
Repeated telephone calls to Chief Bill Follis, who has held the Tribe’s top post for 46 years, were not returned.
In a prepared statement released on June 8, Chief Follis stated “I want to reassure our potential members that the Enrollment Committee did not take final action to disapprove any of the improper enrollment applications or disenroll any tribal members.”
“The current administration said they had problems with 470 applications – including mine,” Karnes said, an enrolled member of the Tribe since the early 1980s.
Some of the enrollment forms from the register have been going to incorrect addresses across the nation, he said.
“The former elected council is refusing to step down and make way for the newly elected council,” Karnes said.
Karnes is the newly elected second chief.
Each person will have an opportunity to work with the Tribal Registrar to ensure the application is complete and properly reviewed to determine whether the person is eligible for enrollment, according to the statement.
The current Modoc Nation enrollment is 555 members. After the audit the tribe’s numbers fell to 83 members, Karnes said.
The Modoc Nation referred questions to the tribe’s attorney, Patrick Bergin.
Tribal enrollments beginning in 2019 were not consistent with the requirements spelled out in the tribe’s ordinance and constitution, Bergin said.
“The Enrollment Committee reviewed everyone’s enrollment file to make sure they were filled out correctly,” Bergin said.
Those enrollment applications were remanded to the tribal register to correct any deficiencies, he said.
The current administration decided to postpone the election until the enrollment applications complications could be ironed out, Bergin said.