Former Quapaw Nation chairman disqualified as vice chairman candidate

·4 min read

Jun. 13—QUAPAW, Okla. — Former longtime Quapaw Nation Chairman John L. Berrey and the tribal business committee remain at odds.

The Quapaw Nation Business Committee recently voted to disqualify Berrey, who was ousted as chairman in an election in 2020, as a candidate for vice chairman this year.

"I think it clearly shows that the Quapaw Nation Business Committee is terrified of me winning and has decided to continue to trash my rights," Berrey told the Globe on Friday. "I have not received any due process afforded to me by the U.S. Constitution and the Indian Civil Rights Act. I just hope and pray that I can get a fair shake in court."

The unanimous vote, with one abstention from Vice Chairwoman Callie Bowden, was made by the committee Tuesday, declaring Berrey "unsuitable for candidacy to the Quapaw Nation Business Committee."

Berrey, who served as chairman of the committee for roughly 20 years, is facing criminal complaints in Quapaw Tribal Court accusing him, as well as former Secretary-Treasurer Tamara Smiley-Reeves, of multiple counts of conspiracy, theft and abuse of office.

Probable-cause affidavits and an accompanying civil court action implicate as many as seven other tribal officials and executives of casino operations in Oklahoma and Arkansas in conspiracies and thefts. The tribe is seeking more than $7 million in damages from the defendants.

Berrey faces 11 criminal counts. Smiley-Reeves, who was ousted in the same election as Berrey, is charged with seven criminal counts.

The former chairman believes the committee's recent decision to disqualify him is only a reflection of its fear that he will expose corruption now taking place within the tribe if he returns to the committee.

"The real story is not John Berrey," he told the Globe. "The story is the destruction of the assets and businesses of the Quapaw Nation. and the wealth is being detoured to non-Indian lawyers, and the pain that's being caused, it's really hurting several families and people within the nation."

Candidacy challenge

By law, registered Quapaw Nation voters are allowed to challenge the eligibility of any candidate by filing a statement for the grounds of the challenge with the Quapaw Nation Election Committee. Tribal voters challenged Berrey's candidacy partly based on the pending criminal charges.

The same tribal members also allege Berrey committed treason against the tribe by filing now-dismissed defamation charges in nontribal court related to the charges against him, according to a tribal press release.

Voters filed their challenge before the election committee, which determined Berrey was, in fact, eligible for candidacy. Berrey said that not only did he meet the criteria, but the challenge made against him was untimely and went against the closing period under the ordinance.

"The election committee has never been overturned, and they (the business committee) decided to overturn them for the first time ever," said Berrey. "I got a letter on May 25 informing me a challenge had been made against my candidacy for the July 24, 2021, election, and I responded. It's five calendar days from the closing of the filing period that the challenge has to be made. It had to be received before May 21. But the challenge was received on May 24, so it was untimely. They didn't follow the election ordinance."

But the Quapaw Nation Business Committee found in favor of the challenging parties and cast the final vote to disqualify Berrey.

"The governing resolution delegates authority to the Quapaw Nation Business Committee to speak and act on behalf of the Quapaw Nation," according to a committee joint statement. "In our roles as elected officials, we are required to exercise its powers in the best interest of the Tribe.

"It is the decision of the Business Committee to overturn the determination of the Election Committee by declaring John L. Berrey unsuitable for candidacy to the Quapaw Nation Business Committee," the statement said. "The Business Committee hereby disqualifies John L. Berrey from this election and orders the Election Committee to remove his name as a candidate."

Tribal court records state that the Quapaw Nation Gaming Authority about a year ago began looking into social media complaints of improper bonuses going to tribal leaders and casino executives. That scrutiny led to the criminal charges and lawsuits being filed in April 2021. Globe efforts to obtain the current status of those cases were unsuccessful.

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