- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that a tribal dispute involving leadership should be settled locally, not through the court system.

The dispute began with a lawsuit filed against Mount McKinley Bank by one group claiming leadership of the Healy Lake Village tribe, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://is.gd/vDLECJ ) reported.

Another group also claims it is the rightful leader.

The state Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the case filed by the group led by Robert Fifer, saying the tribe’s constitution dictates the establishment of a tribal court that would resolve the dispute. The court agreed with a November high court ruling that it did not have the jurisdiction to determine who should govern. Fifer’s group appealed the lower court decision.

The lawsuit was filed after the bank refused to change the signatory authority.

The tribe’s constitution, established in 1997, calls for a periodic election of a traditional council to serve as the governing body, with the first chief serving as the presiding officer.

The other group claiming leadership is led by JoAnn Polston. She has served as the council leader for the past several years and has been listed as a signatory on the tribe’s bank account since 2005.

Fifer’s group claims the council failed to hold the necessary elections for several years.

Under the tribe’s constitution, a group can challenge council inaction by circulating a petition calling for new elections and garnering at least 50 percent of the vote. Fifer’s group says it did that, in 2011, and Fifer was elected first chief.

The other group issued its own election notice in 2012, and Polston was elected first chief.

In a court motion, Mount McKinley Bank stated, “once the tribe, the dissenting group and the incumbent group, resolve this issue regarding control, then the bank will honor the outcome.”


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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