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Little Shell Pembina Band
Law enforcement officers and public officials around the country are encountering members of a new and active anti-government extremist group that calls itself the "Little Shell Pembina Band of North America." Members of the group claim that they belong to a "sovereign" Native American tribe and therefore are not subject to laws and regulations; in reality, the "Little Shell Pembina Band" is part of the anti-government "sovereign citizen" movement. Its members' activities range from driving with bogus license plates to perpetrating insurance fraud schemes to tax evasion.

Activities and Tactics
Founder: Ronald Delorme
Based: Primarily in North Dakota and Washington, but members can be found across the nation.
Splinter Group: The group has split into two competing factions, each using the same name.
Media: Internet, videos, seminars, fax solicitations Approach: Claims to be a sovereign Native American tribe and not subject to the laws of the United States.
Ideology: Anti-government and sovereign citizen; members may also belong to a wide variety of sovereign citizen, militia, or white supremacist groups.


The origins of the Little Shell Band (named after a Chief Little Shell, who died in 1901) have a kernel of truth. The Little Shell Band did, in fact, once exist as a branch of the Chippewa on the northern Great Plains in the 19th century. Most were pushed westward out of Minnesota and North Dakota to Montana. Today there is a Little Shell Band of Montana, a legitimate although federally unrecognized Native American tribe. It has no connections to extremism or to the Little Shell Pembina Band of North America. (Pembina refers to the area around the Pembina River in northeastern North Dakota).

In the 20th century, a variety of Chippewa factions launched lawsuits for federal recognition and funds. In these competing suits, one group identified itself as the "Little Shell of North Dakota" but never achieved recognition.

In 2001, a North Dakota resident named Ronald Karyance Delorme, claiming to be the hereditary chief of the "Little Shell Band of Indians of North America," filed a federal lawsuit that sought recognition as well as funds from appropriations statutes pertaining to Chippewa land claims. According to the legal argument prepared by Delorme's attorney, the funds (including interest) amounted to more than a hundred million dollars.

Describing himself as the great-grandson of Auguhk Qway, one of Chief Little Shell's Grand Council members, Delorme had fought with other Chippewa groups over these claims for years (despite a 1993 Native American newspaper report that his Little Shell Band consisted primarily of his family). Ultimately, the courts saw little merit in Delorme's arguments and refused to acknowledge a connection between his group and the Chippewas who had previously fought for recognition.

At some point during these unsuccessful legal battles, Delorme transformed the Little Shell Band into a sovereign citizen group. Its ideology was not new to the region: sovereign citizens had been active in North Dakota, where Delorme and his extended family lived, dating back to the 1980s, when Posse Comitatus leader Gordon Kahl ambushed and killed two federal marshals in Medina in 1983.

By 2004 the Little Shell Band claimed to be a "completely sovereign tribe" that held "allodial title" to over 53 million acres of land (for some reason, this figure was later increased to 62 million). Saying it no longer sought federal recognition, the group declared its own executive, legislative and judicial powers, bestowing on itself the right to establish a legal bar and "tribal lawyers" as well as a "sovereign tribal financial and banking institution."

Land claimed by the Little Shell Pembina Band. Includes most of North Dakota and parts of Montana, South Dakota and Manitoba.

Perhaps most importantly, the "new" version of the Little Shell Band allowed anyone, regardless of ancestry, to become a member of the group, opening the door for a variety of anti-government figures to join (for a fee) and claim membership in the "sovereign" Little Shell Band. As a result, Little Shell Band activity spread around the country.

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The Little Shell Band has more than 60 documented members, with probably at least a hundred more not yet identified. People have joined from around the country, with larger numbers in North Dakota, the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. The members are an eclectic and unusual collection of anti-government activists, including:
  • The Delorme family. Ronald Delorme and his family began the Little Shell Band and continue to play an extremely important role. Among the family members identified with the group are Dallas Delorme (Grand Council member), Leo Delorme (Grand Council Chairman), Glen Delorme (Grand Council member), Keith Delorme (Administrative Officer) and Vincent Delorme (Grand Council).

    The family is not unified, however. In April 2004, Ronald Delorme and Leo Delorme mutually expelled each other, as well as various followers, thereby creating separate factions of the group, each with its own Web page and each claiming to be the "real" Little Shell Band.

  • Ronald Brakke (Tribal Spokesman). Brakke is a long-time sovereign citizen activist from North Dakota. According to a colleague, he is an "expert on banking, credit, mortgage and entitlement." During the 1980s, Brakke, once a farmer, was involved with Posse Comitatus-style groups that promoted fictitious financial instruments, bogus trusts and similar schemes. In 1991, he was convicted for theft after harvesting crops on property owned by a bank.

  • William McNamara (Director of Public Relations). One of the more unusual characters in the Little Shell saga, William McNamara is a Hollywood television and film actor who has played in films alongside well-known stars ranging from Bette Midler to Jeff Bridges to Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. McNamara is also a dedicated sovereign citizen, involved with the Law Research Group and tied to other anti-government organizations such as the Erwin Rommel School of Law. Along with Brakke, Leo Delorme, and Navin Naidu (see below), he has offered seminars in Hollywood about the Little Shell Band, which purport to explain how "members of the band can use a quit claim to offset potential foreclosure." In an e-mail to ADL, McNamara asserted that he had cut off relations with Ronald Delorme and Navin Naidu.

  • Navin Naidu (Circuit Court Judge and Finance/Economic Advisor). Naidu is perhaps the strangest Little Shell character of all. He first achieved notoriety when he appeared in Fiji in 2001 as the lawyer for George Speight, a former insurance salesman who had spearheaded an unsuccessful coup d'etat and was subsequently charged with treason. When the Fiji government checked Naidu's qualifications, it discovered that his University of London law certificate was spurious, as was his claim to be practicing at the "International Ecclesiastical Law Offices" in Seattle, which turned out to be non-existent. Naidu, a Singapore-born ethnic East Indian and U.S. resident, admitted that he had no license to practice law in the U.S. but that his credentials came from "Jesus." Naidu was arrested and later deported. Back in the United States, Naidu moved to Kent, Washington, where he identified himself as an "ecclesiastical lawyer" and began devising plans to create a church court that could marry or divorce people and even decide criminal cases.

  • John Lloyd Kirk (Clerk; Tribal Lawyer). A Tukwila, Washington, sovereign citizen and anti-Semite and a friend of Montana Freeman Leroy Schweitzer, Kirk was one of a group of seven Washington sovereign citizens and militia members arrested in 1997 on a variety of weapons and explosives charges. Convicted of possession of a pipe bomb and conspiracy to possess and make destructive devices, Kirk received a 46-month prison sentence. It was not his first conviction: in 1980, according to author Jane Kramer, he had been found guilty of statutory rape in an incident involving his daughters.

  • Kenneth "Keny" Wayne Leaming (Tribal Prosecuting Attorney). Leaming, a self-described "recognized international lawyer" and "Attorney in Fact" is a Spanaway, Washington-based former deputy sheriff and member of the Civil Rights Task Force, a sovereign citizen group that has used badges and raid jackets to resemble law enforcement officers. His CRTF partner, David Carroll Stephenson, was ordered by a federal court in March 2004 to stop promoting an alleged tax scam that allowed people to avoid an estimated $43 million in federal income taxes.

  • Allen "White Eagle Soaring" Heart. The entrepreneurial Heart and his partner Kay Ekwall operate the Seventh Fire Web site, where they market a wide variety of items, including "authentic Ojibwe dream catchers," alternative health products and bogus mortgage elimination schemes. The site also provides a variety of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic essays, such as "How Thieves Corrupted the Bible by Adding the Zionist State of Israel for Christians to Worship."
Other identified members of the Little Shell Band include many who are involved in different extreme right-wing movements.

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Activities and Tactics

Since the Little Shell Band started operating as a sovereign citizen group, its members have sought to use its self-declared, fictitious sovereignty to their advantage. These activities have included:
  • Offering bogus insurance. One of the earliest activities of the Little Shell Band was to offer insurance under the guise of the "Little Shell Pembina Band of North America Assurance Company" (and other names). Despite lacking licenses and certificates of authority, the Little Shell Band offered applications for auto and homeowners "assurance" that would replace existing insurance policies, according to North Dakota officials, who issued a cease and desist order against Ronald Delorme and others in 2003. In June 2003, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation ordered the First Actual American Insurance Company, Ronald Delorme and Zachary Betts of California to stop marketing malpractice insurance. According to Florida regulators, the company claimed it had authority through the Little Shell Band and was faxing sales materials to doctors throughout Florida.

    Similar cease and desist orders soon followed from Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, New York, Washington and Georgia, naming Delorme, the First Actual American Insurance Company and a variety of other individuals. In July 2004, Leo Delorme ordered the expulsion of Ronald Delorme and various other members for allegedly "preparing and carrying out a liability insurance scheme for the purpose of defrauding doctors."

  • Evading taxes. In May 2004, Donald Donovan of Seaford, Delaware, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined following a four-count conviction on tax evasion charges. Donavan, who failed to pay almost $100,000 in federal income taxes over several years, claimed, among other things, that because he was a member of the Little Shell band, he should be exempted from paying taxes. Other Little Shell members made similar claims.

    In June 2004, the IRS sent Ronald Delorme a letter complaining that Little Shell Band identification cards described holders as exempt from federal income taxes. Delorme maintained that the issuers of the cards had been expelled from the Little Shell Band (according to a notice on Delorme's Web site, those involved were Ronald Brakke, William McNamara, Randy Peterson, and John Sheridan). On one online forum, a Little Shell member claimed in July 2004 that he showed his new employers such a card and they stopped withholding taxes on his salary; he also claimed to use it to avoid paying sales tax at stores like Wal-Mart.

  • Avoiding regulations. Some Little Shell Band members have tried to use the ostensible sovereignty of the group to avoid regulations or court orders. For example, Davenport, Iowa, officials issued citations ordering Larry Allen Bell and Martha June Puls to clean up their property, which was littered with debris ranging from old vehicles to piles of dirt and rocks. Bell and Puls filed suit in federal court in 2003, claiming that their property was "Indian treaty land" under the "sovereign national jurisdiction" of the Little Shell Band because Bell had allegedly deeded his property to the Little Shell Band in 2002. The suit was dismissed.

  • Using bogus license plates and driving documents.
    Little Shell license plates have been spotted around the country by law enforcement officials. In July 2003, for example, five residents of Barnes County, North Dakota, were arrested after being caught with fake drivers licenses, registrations and insurance cards issued by the Little Shell Band. The license plates look realistic and may easily be confused with legitimate tribal license plates.

  • Delaying court cases and thwarting foreclosures. Little Shell members commonly try to avoid the consequences of lawsuits or prosecutions by claiming that the courts lack jurisdiction over them or by transferring contested items, such as property, to the Little Shell Band. Krystina Diane Coffman of Cincinnati, Ohio, attempted to use this tactic after the Toyota Corporation sued her when she stopped making payments on her 2003 Lexus. Coffman claimed that she had paid Toyota, even though she only made seven payments, because she sent them a "promissory note" for the remainder. In court, she initially refused to answer questions about the car, but finally admitted that she "sold" it to the Little Shell Band for "one piece of silver." She also filed documents demanding that the case be removed from the federal court and transferred to the "Federal Tribal Circuit Court" of the Pembina Nation Little Shell Band. In late December 2004, she neglected to appear for the final ruling, prompting the judge to order police to bring her to court when found.

    Similarly, North Dakota residents Virgil Rott, Shirley Rott and Dwight Rott brought suit in 2004 against the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, which years earlier had foreclosed on their property. As part of their argument, the Rotts filed documentation with the court stating that they had deeded their interest in the property to the Little Shell Band. Precisely what effect they thought this might have is unclear, but their suit was unsuccessful.

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