A Ronan couple has filed a defamation suit against the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) over a report the group issued earlier this year on anti-tribal organizations.
Roland and Lisa Morris, who have been heavily involved with the group All Citizens Equal (ACE) on the Flathead Indian Reservation, allege the network libeled them by asserting they are “anti-Indian” and are leaders in an “anti-Indian movement.” The report, written by MHRN program director Ken Toole and Christine Kaufmann, the group’s research and policy director, contends that the movement “is racist at its core.”
The report, which tracked anti-tribal organizing in Montana over the past 20 years, includes a history of ACE, the Citizen’s Equal Rights Alliance, and a handful of other similar organizations with regional and national interconnections. One section focuses on the Morrises and the fact that they have fought against tribal initiatives. Roland Morris was listed as ACE president in 1997. Lisa Morris has also served on the group’s board of directors. ACE is an outgrowth of Flathead Residents Earning Equality, which sprouted on the Flathead Reservation in the early 1970s. The organization, which has fought the Salish and Kootenai tribal government on a wide variety of fronts, later changed its name to Montanans Opposing Discrimination. The group became ACE in the early 1980s.
The report’s claims that the Morrises “are racist has exposed them to hatred, contempt, ridicule, disgrace or obloquy and has caused them, separately and together, to be shunned and avoided, and has tended to injure them in their occupation,” the suit alleges. The couple is represented by Helena attorney Jon Metropoulos, who also represents the Flathead Joint Board of Control, the reservation’s largest group of irrigators.
Toole notes that the Morrises were given a draft copy of the report and were asked to review it before it was printed. The couple replied in a letter that there were “numerous factual errors” in the draft, but declined to specify what they were. “I would suggest you publish it only after you correct those errors and the equally incorrect assumptions and conclusions,” the letter says. “It is your responsibility to ensure the accuracy of your reports.”
According to the lawsuit, filed June 5 in Lake County District Court, Roland Morris is an enrolled member of the Chippewa Tribe in Minnesota. While his wife is not a Native American, their five children also belong to the tribe, documents state.
“Overall, I think the report is very well-researched,” Toole says. “The Morrises are mad about our opinions, but we have a right to express those opinions.”