Never one to stray from saying what he really feels, Blackfeet tribal member Byron Farmer actually spent five days in a tribal jail in July for speaking out against his divided tribal government’s alleged corruption. Farmer, the de facto leader of the Blackfeet Against Corruption group, said he was arrested over free speech violations as not once did he threaten anyone in his BAC Facebook post stating about a proposed parade float: “We promise it will be exciting and make headlines worldwide. And we can tell you we are not planning anything violent or illegal so they (tribal council) will not be able to stop us.”
Although Farmer’s actions are protected under the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, locally the Blackfeet Tribe deemed it a violation of the Blackfeet Ordinance 67 which protects council members against libelous “or misleading statements meant to harm, injure, discredit” them. Farmer’s attorney, David Gordon, writes, “They’re basically saying if you criticize the tribal council you’re going to go to jail and that’s frightening.”
Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with the always fiery Farmer to see what good jail did to him.
Was being arrested and jailed for five days over a free speech issue worth it?
I didn’t much like it. Our jails aren’t country clubs. I am a big guy so was never in danger, but I have to admit I was very angry. It was hardest on my family, but they understood the importance of BAC’s mission. But yeah, it did a firestorm of good. My five days in jail brought BAC millions of dollars in free national coast-to-cost advertising about what’s going on in our home. My arrest was the trigger that finally swung around the big national media spotlight to shine right on the Blackfeet Reservation, where it caught tribal leadership speechless, embarrassed, and scurrying. Ever since then the Blackfeet Tribal Council has been on the defensive and under non-stop media and legal pressure.
Where you surprised about the firestorm your arrest caused?
Americans may not understand the mysterious inner workings of Indian country, but they sure as hell understand what free speech is. So the national media immediately jumped on the news and printed my Facebook postings that triggered my imprisonment. Americans read my tame, innocuous comments and couldn’t believe that that sort of clearly Constitutionally-protected speech aimed at elected leaders could result in an arrest, let alone jail in America. People everywhere were really bewildered and angry and that fueled more media coverage. But I would have gladly done five months if that’s what it took to wake up the world to what is going on here.
What do you think of emerging as the BAC de facto leader?
I am not the leader of BAC, I am just one of many right-thinking Blackfeet that have been trying for years to push back the tidal wave of corruption that has engulfed the Blackfeet Tribe. Events and momentum may be on our side now, but for years we felt like tiny voices in the wilderness constantly being threatened and attacked. The reason my name is out there are four things that make my role possible. First, I live in Great Falls, beyond the reach of the BTBC and Tribal Police – I was on the reservation visiting family when they arrested me, so apparently they were waiting for me. Second, I am willing to loudly and relentlessly speak out, come what may. Third, neither I nor my immediate family depends on the tribe for a paycheck so they can’t use their favorite weapon – firing people – on me. Fourth, over time whistle blowers have come to trust me and BAC as a reliable, confidential outlet for things they want other Blackfeet to know. So, as anyone can see from BAC’s Facebook page, my inbox gets the goods almost every day and I never reveal my sources.
Most have to keep a low profile so they don’t lose their jobs or face other retaliation from the BTBC. Second, BAC doesn’t take credit for any of the good stuff that has been happening lately such as the indictments. All we do is keep up constant intense pressure on the bad guys with a steady drumbeat of reliable news, analysis, predictions, inside scoops, and the publishing of documents the BTBC want kept secret. Third, BAC will never give up and we have lots more to do.