CARNEGIE — Several Kiowa Tribe citizens seemed to breathe a sigh of relief Friday as they celebrated the swearing in of new Chairman Lawrence Spottedbird and Vice Chairman Jacob Tsotigh.
Following a cedaring ceremony aimed at cleansing people ahead of a major event, Spottedbird and Tsotigh formally assumed leadership of the tribe’s executive branch at the Kiowa Community Center in Carnegie. Two new legislators, Timothy Satepauhoodle and Alana Quetone, were also sworn into office.
“I think (today is) people looking for hope, looking for promise and wanting to be reassured that we might be able to bring them some sense of honesty and integrity that has been missing,” Tsotigh said after the day’s ceremonies. “I think they’re very excited, because our pledge has been to bring that openness.”
Although Tsotigh did not name him, the legislator-turned vice chairman was referencing outgoing Chairman Matthew Komalty, whose four years in office were dogged by corruption allegations, an attempted impeachment vote and a federal investigation into tribal finances, the results of which have not been revealed.
“I was tired of seeing our leaders leading in a way in a manner that they were leading,” said Spottedbird said. “And I want to bring in a drug and alcohol-free, a respectful lifestyle, to our leadership.”
Friday, Kiowa citizens and other elected officials seemed ready for that change, as even the tribe’s May election results proved contentious despite Spottedbird and Tsotigh receiving 56.7 percent support in a four-way race. The saga — which involved disputed absentee ballots, Kiowa Election Commission appointments being invalidated by a Court of Federal Regulations judge and a false June 30 press release claiming there would be a runoff election — only stoked further frustration with the Komalty and outgoing Vice Chairwoman Rhonda Ahhaity, who ran to succeed Komalty but did not concede defeat until two days before Friday’s swearing in ceremony.
“While it is true that my campaign identified and responded to election irregularities during this race, I thank the CFR Court and my legal team for their assistance in addressing those irregularities for the Kiowa people as we move forward,” Ahhaity said in her announcement. “I also thank Chairman-Elect Spottedbird and his supporters for their patience while that process was resolved. I hope to serve the Kiowa people again should they see fit to nominate me for office in the future.”
Tribal tensions involving Komalty have spanned a decade, and in December 2020, citizens of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma turned over financial records and supporting documents to the FBI that they said indicated unethical and potentially criminal behavior by Komalty. Among other allegations, the citizens said Komalty inappropriately spent tribal funds on Netflix, music services and male enhancement medication.
In an August 2021 interview with NonDoc, Komalty denied buying such items.
“I don’t react to it. Why should I react to it?” he said.
Komalty said he has thick skin despite the criticism from “these people that are griping.”
“They’re vocal. They’re loud. They’re on social media. You don’t see any of my people on social media, because I don’t let them get on there. We’ve got work to do, and that’s what we do,” Komalty told NonDoc in August 2021. “These people that are on social media have a vendetta. They’re sitting there saying things, making lies. I’ve been taken to court, I’ve been recalled twice, and I’ve went through impeachment. No way, I follow the constitution.”
Lawrence Spottedbird: ‘We can’t do this alone’
At the cedaring ceremony Friday on tribal dancing grounds, leaders, citizens and guests alike entered teepees and, facing east, had smoke from burning cedar waved onto them with eagle feathers. The ceremony happens before major tribal events and serves as a cleansing ritual.
Spottedbird, who has been working as the executive director of the tribal center for the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa since 2020, said he has a 10-year vision that includes implementing the tribe’s new constitution and setting up a judiciary branch, a particular point of contention during Komalty’s time as chairman.
Spottedbird said he wants to set up a judiciary “as soon as humanly possible” and move away from relying on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ court for judicial matters.
“I want to be fully reliant on ourselves for our own system and follow our own constitution that outlines the judiciary,” he said.
Friday’s ceremony included a “Victory Song” and a “Chief Song” to celebrate the new leadership. Multiple men beat a large drum and chanted as citizens danced and sang along. A procession of citizens dressed in traditional regalia advanced the American flag, the Oklahoma flag and tribal flags around the room before they stopped at the stage.
Just after Spottedbird recited the oath in which he promised to protect the Kiowa Constitution, a man shouted, “We’re going to hold you to that!” drawing laughs from the crowd.
During Spottedbird’s first address to the tribe after formally being sworn in, he promised to work with the Kiowa Legislature, saying “We can’t do this alone.”
At one point in his speech, Spottedbird invited his grandmother, Dorothy Whitehorse DeLaune, on stage to speak because he did not “want to speak before my own elders.”
As she stood next to Spottebird, Whitehorse DeLaune spoke of her Kiowa heritage and upbringing.
“I’m not anybody, I come and I say what I think. (…) I’m a Kiowa through and through,” she said.
Moving forward, Tsotigh said his immediate concern will be uncovering just how corrupt the previous administration might have been.
“It’s very complicated, we have a lot to uncover,” Tsotigh said. “So we’ll do all we can to restore faith and trust in our government, so that our citizens can be confident that their resources are being handled in a good way.”
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