attorney roles

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Leadership and Lasting Commitment

Native Nations Institute

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs. Shannon was also the former Chief of Staff, National Indian Gaming Commission, a member of President Obama’s NAGPRA Review Committee, and a Cultural Property Advisory Committee Member for the U.S. State Dept.

In this interview with NNI, Shannon shares her in-depth thoughts about her journey in tribal leadership and perspectives on unique navigating commitments in leadership, while also respecting the values of Native communities that are served. Her commitment is revealed through her lessons learned and examples shown to her from elder mentorship. These experiences she shares shows the impact of indigenous organization for Native Nations and their communities as she carries on the legacy work of AAIA. Shannon stresses the importance of understanding key policy decisions being made at the Federal level, and their potential impact on Indian Country.

Resource Type

Native Nations Institute. "Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Leadership and Lasting Commitment.” Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, January 10, 2019

Transcript available upon request. Please email:

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Women in Governance

Native Nations Institute

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs. Shannon was also the former Chief of Staff, National Indian Gaming Commission, a member of President Obama’s NAGPRA Review Committee, and a Cultural Property Advisory Committee Member for the U.S. State Dept.

Shannon’s perspectives and experiences as a leading attorney in her field provide unique insights on the challenges of navigating commitments in leadership, while also respecting the values of Native communities that are served. Shannon stresses the importance of understanding key policy decisions being made at the Federal level, and their potential impact on Indian Country.

This speech was recorded as part of the Native Women in Governance Speaker Series presented by the Native Nations Institute’s Indigenous Governance Program in collaboration with the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law.

Resource Type

Native Nations Institute. "Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Women in Governance" Native Women In Governance Speaker Series. Tucson, Arizona. January 10, 2019

Transcript available upon request. Please email:

Ian Record: Constitutional Reform: Some Perspectives on Process

Native Nations Institute

Dr. Ian Record, NNI Manager of Educational Resources, provides a broad overview of the inherent difficulties involved with constitutional reform, the different processes that Native nations are developing to engage in constitutional reform, and some of the effective reform strategies that NNI is encountering through its work with Native nations in this area. He also discusses the appropriate roles that attorneys and legal advocates should play in the reform process.

Resource Type

Record, Ian. "Constitutional Reform: Some Perspectives on Process." Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program, James E. Rogers College of Law, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 15, 2014. Presentation.

“The reality is that in the era of nation building, the era of tribal self-determination, what we’re seeing is a growing number of nations realizing that if they want to fully exercise their sovereignty, if they want to fully exercise their jurisdiction, if they want to be serious about tribal self-determination and self-governance, they have to look first and foremost at the constitutional basis of their governance systems and once...when they do that, what a great number of them are finding is that the constitutions that they have for a variety of reasons aren’t theirs, were imposed upon them by outsiders, typically the federal government through the Indian Reorganization Act, through the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act and other types of legislation and acts. And what they’re finding is that they don’t own them, they’re not theirs, they don’t make sense to them culturally, and also in many cases, they don’t meet the challenges of the day. They’re very structurally weak, they’re ill equipped to enable Native nations to achieve their goals, to negotiate the complex governance challenges that they face in the 21st century.

And so what we do at the Native Nations Institute is we spend quite a bit of our time working directly with a growing number of native nations, in particular in the region of North and South Dakota and Minnesota in this realm of governance reform and specifically constitutional reform. So often we are called to come in, and at the very beginning of a process, when the nation may just have come to the decision that we’re going to tackle this constitutional reform challenge. And often we’re brought in after a reform process has failed. Often we’re brought in to help a nation design a citizen education campaign around a new constitution that they’ve already created. So what we’ve been in the great position to do is to really see at various stages of the constitutional reform process what is working and what isn’t.

So what I wanted to talk about today, to spend a little bit of time on, is what we’ve learned when it comes to not so much what kinds of constitutional changes that tribes are making, but more how they’re doing it. Because fortunately or unfortunately, what we’re seeing is there’s a lot more nations that recognize that they need to make constitutional change happen than are actually doing that constitutional change because it’s an incredibly difficult process. And it’s often difficult for the very reasons that I already talked about, these legacies of colonialism, which I’ll get into in a little bit.

So here’s some of the outcomes that we see, and this is sort of done in conversational style, but we see a variety of outcomes when it comes to nations engaging in constitutional reform. Some actually succeed. Some actually succeed to the scope and to the degree to which they actually embarked upon.

So they say, ‘Well, at the beginning of the process we’ve decided we’re going to get rid of this constitution we have because for the reasons I put out it doesn’t make sense to us, it doesn’t meet our needs and they actually succeed in developing an entirely new constitution. Other say, ‘Well, yeah, I guess you could say we succeeded, but we only did minor changes. We didn’t do nearly as much as we had hoped to do because perhaps some of the bigger changes were too controversial, our people weren’t ready to really accept what a major change in a particular area was going to mean so we kind of...we did the easy stuff. We did the more pro forma stuff.’

Sometimes we hear tribes say, ‘Well, we completed reform but our citizens didn’t really have a full sense of ownership in the process and they didn’t really care what the outcome is and things are sort of proceeding as they did before.’ And that’s a real dangerous place that you don’t want to be in as a Native nation.

Sometimes we see tribes say, ‘Well, we completed reform, but the community is now only more divided than it was before. We engaged in this process because there was division within the community, there was a lot of factionalism going on, we felt that at the root of that factionalism was our governance system and the inherent inadequacies in it, but this reform we’ve engaged in has actually made things worse.’

Often we hear this, ‘Our process started and then it stalled.’ And there is a variety of reasons we see for that. I’d say the biggest one probably is the political turnover challenge. Often, in these nations that are wrestling with constitutional reform, if you look at for instance the standard boilerplate IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) constitution system of government, you have two-year, non-staggered terms of elected office. So if you think about that, you have a very small window. If you have a group of leaders that decide, ‘We want to push constitutional reform, maybe that was the platform we ran on our campaign and we really feel like we’ve got this short window to do this,’ and if you’re thinking about two-year, non-staggered terms, you’re looking at maybe 12 months of real meaningful work that you can do before it’s time to get ready for re-election and try to run on some sort of platform of progress.

And then often we see, ‘We can’t even get the process started.’ And in these instances typically what it is is there’s widespread recognition in the community, there’s widespread recognition among elected leadership, there’s widespread recognition among people working in tribal government that, ‘The system we have is not working. We can’t make this work, we can’t move forward as long as we have it, but we can’t seem to get off the mark in terms of figuring out how to actually change it.’ So these are just some of the common outcomes.

So why is it so difficult? Constitutional change is difficult everywhere. If you look at a lot of the examples coming out of Africa for instance in the last 20, 30 years, if you look at those former Eastern European Soviet Union block countries that got out of the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union fell apart, they’ve been struggling for the past 30 or so years trying to figure out, ‘What’s going to be the constitutional basis of our government?’ And there were a number that simply pulled one off the shelf and they very quickly found that, ‘It’s not working for us. We’ve got to develop something that is ours, that makes sense to us.’ So it’s difficult everywhere.

The legacies of colonialism complicate it. Often the very policies that nations are trying to get out from under by engaging in constitutional reform are the actual things that hinder constitutional reform, things like I just mentioned, these short, non-staggered terms of elected office. Often in these nations you have a lack of separations of powers, division of responsibilities, so you can have one leader or a couple of leaders just say, ‘If we’re not buying into this process, we can derail the whole thing,’ because they have that much power and authority. So the legacies of colonialism complicate it.

Time is often short. I mentioned that. And I wanted to share this example with you and this is in your packet here. This is...I actually took this screen capture. This is from an email that we got from a tribe that we’ve been working with on and off for the last several years. They were basically emailing us asking us to provide them assistance and this is what they laid out as their timetable for starting a constitutional reform process and actually having a new draft constitution in hand, upon which time they could have their citizens vote on it. This is a nation with more than 13,000 citizens, spread out all over the place. More than half of them live off reservation.

So they had it in mind, the particular elected leader who was leading this initiative, had it in mind that between early May and mid-June, roughly six weeks, that they would initiate a constitutional reform process with an initial training of their leadership followed by a community forum to discuss and review the current constitution, a team meeting to draft the new constitution, a community forum to review that draft and offer any feedback, and then the presentation of a petition and proposed revised constitution for signatures at general council to basically put it up for election. All this they were going to do within six weeks, an entirely new constitution.

And what we responded to them was, we said, ‘You need to take a step back and take a deep breath and think about what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re trying to essentially revolutionize your entire system of governance in six weeks, a system of governance that your people has lived with for the entirety of most people’s lifetimes on the reservation and you’re going to give your community, your citizens, one opportunity really to express their will about what they want to see in a constitution and then one opportunity to respond to how they think they see their will captured in that document. And also they have to be physically present and there’s only going to be one chance each time. So if you’ve got a schedule conflict that day, too bad, you had your opportunity.’

So this is the sort of thing we sometimes see nations struggle with because this elected leader says, ‘If I don’t get this done during my term in office, then it’s not going to happen. So I’ve got to sort of build this artificial timetable that does not allow for the people to gain ownership in the process.’ And often really that’s at the root of the problem in many of these constitutions is the people don’t own it. They don’t feel it’s theirs, they don’t believe in it and they don’t believe in the system of government that the constitution creates and so they tend to try to rip off that government for everything it’s worth instead of actually supporting it and supporting the elected leaders who are elected to lead it. So time is often short, that’s a huge challenge.

Cultural match, which is one of the NNI research findings. That is often very difficult to achieve because it’s very difficult to go back to the way things were 150, 200 years ago. What I often stress when I work with tribes in this area is you need to go back and understand how your nation governed itself before the legacies of colonialism began to have an impact, federal policies began to have an impact. What was your nation’s constitution, written or unwritten? What was it? How did the people actually organize to get things done, to sustain the life of the nation? And then also how did your nation’s current constitution come to be? Because those are tools, those are informational tools that nations need as they begin engage this question of reform.

And then another challenge of why reform is so difficult is that you’re not reforming your constitution sort of in isolation. You’ve got to do it with some thought about, ‘How do we relate with other governments? How do we relate with the United States government?’ And what’s really cool is what we’re seeing is we’re seeing a growing number of nations for instance that are removing any reference to the United States in their constitutions, they’re removing any reference of the U.S. Secretary of Interior and their ability to approve changes to the constitution within that constitution. So it is a difficult challenge.

So here’s some other reasons that we’ve encountered. There’s not enough citizen education. And this is really an inherent issue that is larger than simply the constitutional reform process that many nations try to engage in. Often they’re starting at a deficit because they don’t...there isn’t in the community a tribal civics education taking place where young people in the community are learning about how their people governed themselves traditionally, how their current government works, what their current constitution says, they’re not learning that. And so you’re sort of starting with a knowledge gap in many Native communities that is difficult to overcome and really takes a lot of forethought. And that sort of is a bigger challenge than simply saying, ‘Okay, we want to change the constitution.’ If you’re engaging your people about that question, first they have to understand, ‘Well, what are we starting with? What are we starting with? You’re asking us to consider changing something, we don’t even know what that something is.’

So often that’s an issue. Often there’s not enough citizen participation and ownership. It’s that example I just showed you. ‘Eh, we’ll give our citizens one shot at the apple and after that we’ve at least given them the opportunity and then we’re going to move forward.’

And then there’s this question of politics. Reform has to start somewhere and typically it’s going to start with one group of leaders, elected leaders, who are saying, ‘We think this is important. We think if the nation’s going to move forward we’ve got to go down this constitutional reform road.’ No matter what, there’s going to be some in the community that’ll say, ‘Well, this is their political agenda. They’re not doing this on the nation’s behalf. They’re doing this for their own political gain.’ So there’s sort of an inherent distrust and often it’s, again, this is one of the many ‘Catch 22s’ in this area, often the distrust of government in many of these communities has been exacerbated over the decades by the fact that they have a weak constitution. And so when these nations or these leaders say, ‘Well, we need to strengthen our constitution,’ that’s when that distrust tends to rear its ugly head.

And then there’s just simply fear of change. Fear of change. Like I mentioned, in many communities there’s a widespread recognition that the constitution and system of government they have is not adequate, it’s not appropriate, but at the same time a lot of those people feel very comfortable with the way things are. It’s not the best it could be, but they’re comfortable with it, they know how it works, they know the system and if you come to them and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to turn this thing completely upside down on its head and we’re going to create an entirely new governance reality,’ that’s pretty scary for folks.

And there’s parallels around the world. Just look at like the Affordable Care Act. That was a major change in terms of how the government, how the U.S. government serves the U.S. citizens. Basically saying, ‘We’re getting into the health care field. We’re going to get more forcefully into this area.’ That was a huge change and a lot of people still aren’t satisfied with it.

So here are some strategies we’ve come across. We’ve seen tribes tend to be more successful with constitutional reform when they think really hard at the outset about who is going to be in charge of the process. Who is going to be in charge of the process? And we’ll get more into that. They think long and hard about, ‘What are the best ways we can educate our nation’s citizens,’ and this is really critical. That ‘s’ is underlined for a reason. Tribes tend to be more successful when they develop a multi-faceted approach to citizen education and engagement. So basically they do much more than that example I showed you where they just said, ‘Well, we’re going to have a community meeting. We’ll make sure it’s well publicized. Whoever shows up, shows up and whoever doesn’t show up, you had your chance.’

Well, we’ve seen nations like White Earth for instance, who recently went through the development of a new constitution up in Minnesota, who said, ‘We understand our people. We understand the different ways they learn. We’re going to try to develop multiple pathways by which our citizens can learn about and contribute to the development of this new constitution. It’s going to be several cycles of community meetings held in different locations where we know our people live, whether it’s on reservation or off. We’re going to have a website specifically dedicated to this process where we have things like explanatory videos that discuss key aspects of the new constitution, etc. We’re going to be active on social media because we know that’s how young people access information.’ So a multi-faceted approach to educate and engage the nation’s citizens about this critical topic.

And then culturally appropriate methods, culturally appropriate methods. So for instance Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a Pueblo nation in Texas that I’ve been working with, they’ve incorporated, they don’t have a written constitution, but one of the things they’re engaged in is redefining their citizenship criteria, which you could argue is a major constitutional change because they’re changing how they’re constituting themselves by looks like they’re going to be abandoning blood quantum and moving to lineal descent. So that’s a major constitutional change.

Well, what they’ve been doing is they’ve been incorporating their citizen education and engagement strategies into their existing cultural activities. So for instance, I think it’s every three months they have what’s called a ‘Pueblo Junta,’ which is basically a large gathering of all the community members and that’s where they’re updating citizens on what they’ve been learning about -- the surveys they’ve been doing of community members, engaging them, getting their feedback and so forth.

So where we see nations really say, ‘What’s appropriate for our people culturally?’ For instance, ‘If we’re really serious about engaging our elders, what’s the most culturally appropriate way to do that? What’s the most culturally appropriate way to get their input on what we want the new constitution to look like?’ So we’ve seen that bear some good fruit.

Where we’ve seen tribes stumble is when councils dominate the process. It gets back to that politics challenge. You don’t want your elected leaders seeming like they’re at the helm of the reform process. That’s not to say they don’t have a critical role to play in sort of setting up the process through, for instance, enabling legislation. They could pass enabling legislation that actually formally creates a constitutional reform body and then make sure that that constitutional reform body has a life that transcends any single administration or any single term in office. But it’s really a supportive role. Where we’ve seen tribes be successful is when they set up an independent constitutional reform body. It can be a commission, a convention, a committee -- whatever you want to call it. The name doesn’t really matter. It’s the independence that matters, the independence of that entity that matters.

And we’ve seen tribes take a variety of approaches to this. Tribes are really being innovative in terms of how they’re making sure that this constitutional reform body is representative of the entire nation because they understand that at the end of the day, if this reform process is going to be successful, it needs to have the trust of the people and the ownership of the people or else the outcome won’t matter. And so they’re saying, ‘Well, how do we achieve that?’

Well, for our nation it might be, ‘Let’s do it by district. Let’s do it by political district because that makes sure that...that ensures that we have...every district will have representation.’ Or they might say, ‘Well, let’s do it by demographics. We want to make sure we have a young person on there. We want to make sure we have an administrative, bureaucrat type from tribal government on there who can sort of bring that perspective. We want to make sure we have an elder on there. We want to make sure we have an off-reservation citizen on there. We want to make sure that we have somebody who’s a descendent of a tribally enrolled citizen, but may not actually be a citizen of the nation because one of the things we’re thinking about doing is reforming our citizenship criteria and if we do that, that person would then become a citizen of the tribe. So we want that perspective as well.’

So there’s a variety of ways that nations are approaching this representation issue, but ultimately what it needs to be is independent. It needs to have that sort of stand-alone...that stand-alone persona in the community where the average Joe Citizen will look at that reform body and say, ‘Okay, this is not the creature of the council or this particular elected leader. This has its own force to it that is independent and distinct from the current holders of political authority.’ And it’s got to be well funded and it’s got to be respected.

What we’ve seen in some instances is nations will do a really good job of this kind of stuff, the independence questions, the representation question, and then they get down here and they say, ‘Well, we didn’t really have a lot of money for this.’ When what we’ve seen, where these efforts tend to be successful, they take two, three, four, five, six, seven years. They take an extraordinary amount of research, meetings, sometimes travel, sometimes these nations are sending delegations to other tribes who’ve undergone reform and learning from them. So this can get pretty costly and a lot of it depends on how big the tribe is, how many of their citizens they’re trying to reach and get engaged in this.

And then it has to be respected. It has to be respected. Unfortunately what we’ve seen is in some instances tribal leaders will pay lip service to the fact that, ‘Yeah, we’re for constitutional reform. We’ve set up this commission,’ and then they’re out at the powwow and they’re chatting up their buddies, they’re bad mouthing the commission’s work and basically that begins to derail the process because people begin to think, ‘Well, if the leadership really isn’t truly behind this, why should I be?’ So that issue of respect is absolutely critical.

I kind of covered this already about this question of legitimacy of this reform commission, of this reform body. One leader of a nation we’ve worked with in this area said, ‘We went into this process with the very explicit thought in mind that we wanted to have this commission maintain an aura of independence,’ was the term they used. An ‘aura of independence.’ That it’s separate and distinct from sort of the normal political back and forth of the day. That this was going to be about the nation and not about faction A versus faction B.

So here’s some just responsibilities that we see these members, whoever ultimately serves on this commission, what we see as some of their key responsibilities. One of the things we really impress upon tribes... And again, it’s hard for tribes to get outside of their own box, to kind of get their head out of their own issues, their own constitutional problems and say, ‘Well, what could we learn from other nations?’ And so what we really impress upon the nations we work with on this is, ‘Go out. Learn from other tribes. Yeah, we can tell you a little bit about what Tribe A did and Tribe B did and Tribe C did, but you could learn a lot more yourself by going and learning from them directly.’ And it’s not to say you go out and you meet with them and you learn from them and you just simply take everything that they’ve done and you implement it wholesale in your nation, but you may learn a lot of valuable lessons about process, you may learn a lot of valuable lessons about the particular types of constitutional changes that those other nations made and why they made them, and are they working or are they not working. But again, that kind of thing takes funding so you’ve got to think about that up front.

They developed drafts of constitutional changes for feedback and this is critical -- drafts plural, drafts plural. The constitutional drafting process is not a one-shot deal. We’ve seen tribes tend to be more successful when they go into it thinking, ‘We’re going to keep drafting and redrafting and redrafting and redrafting until we get this right because it gives us an opportunity to continually, again and again, solicit the citizens’ thoughts, capture their will on this issue and then incorporate it into this document.’

And part of the...I touched on the citizen education challenge a little bit more, but where we see tribes focus a lot of their energy is trying to help the people understand the answers to these questions. They need to understand that the average Joe Citizen who’s maybe a single mom with three kids, just struggling to put food on the table, get propane in the winter, that kind of stuff, you’re asking them to care about the constitution. You’ve got to make the argument, ‘This will improve your life. This will improve the life of your children and their children.’ And you really need to then educate them about what role does the constitution play in the lives of the people, because if you’re not making that argument, then you’ve lost them even before you get out the door. And then you’ve got to say, ‘Well, if we change the constitution, here’s how we think it will benefit you. Here’s how we think it will strengthen your role as citizen of the nation.’ And here are some of the things we see them focusing on in terms of explaining the purpose of this to the people.

And we see them adopt a number of really interesting strategies. We’re seeing...I’ve been working a lot with the tribal colleges across the country in getting them to use our online curriculum and what we’re seeing is a proliferation in recent years of tribal government classes, of history classes specifically about that nation’s government and that nation’s constitution. We’re seeing some tribes really use their media outlets, whether it’s their newspaper, their tribal newspapers, their tribal radio stations, they’re using them to great advantage.

For instance, one woman I know, she’s from one of the Dakota tribes and she’s got a radio show and she’s on the constitutional reform committee. And so each week she does about 30 minutes on the nation’s constitution and she interviews people on the constitutional reform committee and has them provide updates on where the conversation is on the new constitution and so forth. That’s a really good example. And there’s a lot of tribes that have their own radio stations or at least have access to airtime on radio stations that they don’t own.

Youth councils is another emerging trend we’re seeing. Nations really thinking, ‘This challenge of rebuilding our nation, it’s not going to happen overnight. It didn’t take us a year to get to where we’re at. It’s not going to take a year to change things for the better, so we’ve really got to view this as a long-term proposition. And if we’re going to be serious about nation rebuilding, about making...building a stronger government that is more culturally appropriate, we’ve got to start young. We’ve got to start with our young people.’ So just here in Arizona, there’s some of the most innovative, award-winning tribal youth councils anywhere in Indian Country. Gila River, Tohono O’odham, some really good examples there.

So here’s what we sometimes see and this is an unfortunate thing. And again I think, as we move forward, I’ll talk a little bit more of where we see the role of lawyers, of attorneys, in the constitutional reform process. But this is something really important to keep in mind that you really have to have the citizens on board before the constitutional reform train leaves the station or you could end up with a situation where reform fails and you have your citizens even more apathetic about government, even more alienated, and that’s not where you want to be. Particularly when you embark on constitutional reform, it’s often to improve or strengthen the relationship between citizens and government. Often constitutional reform is attempted precisely because people in positions of authority and of leadership realize that ‘our people are completely disengaged and at the root of that disengagement is this inadequate constitution we have.’

So here’s some reasons why people won’t participate and why the citizen engagement challenge is so difficult. I’ll talk about this. I sort of touched on this. Often people just say, ‘I’m too busy. I’ve got too much going on. I don’t have time to deal with this.’ And so where we see tribes succeed is where they recognize early on that, ‘We can’t expect the people to come to us; we’ve got to go to them. We’ve got to go to them.’ As the leader of one nation that we work with said, ‘If your entire constitutional reform process is predicated on the flyer approach, then you’re dead before you even begin because where you’re simply posting flyers saying, ‘Come to this meeting about constitutional reform,’ nobody shows up and you said, ‘Well, they had their chance,’ that’s not good enough. You’ve got to go to them.

‘It’s not my constitution.’ I don’t know how many of you guys read on a regular basis or Indian Country Today. I don’t know how many of you’ve been following the saga up at Blackfeet. But they are...I was just reading a story today and that refrain was coming out again and again and again. ‘Why are we even dealing with this constitution? It’s not ours. Why are we even abiding by these rules? They’re not ours.’ And so I think again that’s where that history piece is so critical, is people need to really understand sort of the detail of that. ‘Well, yeah, you understand it’s not yours, it was something that was imposed upon you, but what does that mean? What does that mean for how you actually go about changing it? And if it’s not yours, then what would be yours?’ Because often, there’s not a lot of conversation about that. There’s a sense of, ‘Well, we know that’s not our government, we don’t believe in it and we understand that’s at the root of our dysfunction,’ but there’s less conversation about, ‘Well, what is ours? What is our constitution if this is not our constitution?’

‘It doesn’t impact my life.’ You could ask any average American citizen that and that would probably be what they would say about the U.S. Constitution. ‘It doesn’t impact my life.’ Sure it does, just not in a way they can readily see. So again, that’s part of the citizen education and engagement challenge is you’ve got to educate people about how it does in fact impact their life.

‘I don’t trust the process. I don’t trust the process.’ And I want to focus on two things here. Sources of mistrust, one of them is commonly dominance of lawyers in the process. How many of you guys like reading constitutions? Come on, raise your hands. Ray, you like reading constitutions? Nobody likes reading constitutions, right? Even you lawyers to be, not really a lot of fun to read constitutions. Imagine your tribal citizens, your average tribal citizens who may have a tenth-grade, twelfth-grade, maybe a tribal college...a couple years of tribal college education. When lawyers tend to dominate the process, the accessibility of the conversation about constitutions tends to be way above their heads. And so we see a lot of mistrust bubbling up when the lawyers are sort of front and center in the reform process from start to finish.

I’ll give you a good example of this and I may have shared this at the seminar. I was actually teaching with some of my colleagues at an executive education seminar with a tribe who has sort of the boilerplate IRA constitution, system of government-style tribe. We had these lawyers show up to this seminar during the second day and they said, ‘If you have some time at the end of your agenda, we’d like to have the floor so we could talk to the elected leadership and community members and some of the key decision makers,’ that were assembled there in the room. And so we did and they actually got up and they said, ‘Well, we’ve been working on this new draft constitution for the tribe and we got it all done. Here it is. It’s all finished. We want to just give you a quick overview of it.’ And before they got more than about 20 or 30 more words out of their mouth, they got shouted down by the people in the room because nobody knew they were even working on this draft constitution. And so there was no ownership in it and the people that had assembled in the room didn’t even care what was in it, it didn’t matter because it was sort of a done deal. And the feeling was, ‘Well, you’re showing us that this constitution’s a done deal and we weren’t even consulted on it. How dare you.’

And so the ways to overcome, some of the ways to overcome that mistrust is transparency, transparency and transparency. You have to expect that the lawyers are going to respond to the community needs and concerns instead of expecting the community to follow the lawyer’s lead. And what’s absolutely critical is that you create a safe environment for real dialogue. And again this comes back to the role of elected leaders. If you’ve got your elected leaders at every single community meeting about the constitution, about the drafting of a new constitution, and you’ve got a bunch of people that care about this new constitution and they really want to share their thoughts and feelings, but the last time they did it in front of an elected leader they lost their job or something like that, you’ve got to question, ‘Do we really have a safe environment for real dialogue?’ And the elected leaders have to think, ‘Well, me even being here, not even saying anything but me even being present at a community meeting about a new constitution, is that appropriate? Is that going to stifle real dialogue? Is that going to stifle frank input from our citizens who we really need their input if we’re going to have a constitution, a new constitution that is going to have the ownership of the people in it?’

So I want to spend a couple more minutes about some of the things I think that you as attorneys to be need to think about when it comes to tribal constitutional reform and the process by which tribes engage in constitutional reform. Because I would imagine that at some point in your careers -- as I mentioned at the outset -- at some point in your careers you’re going to get involved in a constitutional reform process or you’re going to be engaged on a constitutional question or you’re going to be asked to review the constitutionality of something, of a tribe’s constitution, and that could be in the constitution, it could be in its codes, it could be in resolutions or something.

And I thought this...I wanted to share this quote with you because I thought that it’s very telling. One of our colleagues was having a conversation with the leader of a nation who was engaged in reform and he said that, ‘The law comes from the constitution, therefore the lawyer should come after the constitution.’ I thought that that’s a very telling quote because what you want to think about as an attorney and as a lawyer is, ‘What is my role in assisting a nation in developing a constitution, implementing that constitution, living with that constitution, interpreting that constitution,’ it needs to be a supportive role. It needs to be an advisory role, not so much a creative role.

So one of the things to think about in terms of the appropriate role of lawyers in the reform process is to become an expert on tribal constitutional reform. And there’s a couple threads here that I think you should think about. The first is, have a sense of the landscape. What are tribes doing in the area of constitutional reform across Indian Country? What are the major trends that they’re showing as they develop new constitutions, ratify constitutional amendments, etc.? Where are they focusing their activity, their energy? Things like separations of powers, which is an Indigenous concept. Re-instilling that back into their governance systems. Things like removing the Secretary of Interior approval clause from their constitutions, where if a tribe wants to change its constitution, amend its constitution, it has to go get Secretary of Interior approval to do that. A lot of tribes are just saying, ‘Let’s get that out of the equation. We’re going to amend our constitution to take that out.’

It’s things like strengthening justice systems. And as lawyers who are going to be probably dealing in that realm quite a bit of tribal justice systems, it’d behoove you to know, what are tribes doing in this area to strengthen their justice systems? How are they doing it? How many tribes are bestowing upon their appeals court or their supreme court the ability to review the constitutionality of legislation that the tribe ratifies, that the council passes? So become an expert in tribal constitutional reform. And I would argue also become an expert on...if you envision yourself -- whether you’re an attorney general or maybe you’re a lawyer that’s on retainer with the tribe or maybe you’re consulting a number of tribes -- become an expert on what’s the oral history, what’s the record of that nation’s constitutional reform and that nation’s current constitution because often there’s a lot more in the back story to that nation’s constitution than what’s written on the page. Because you might read a provision that says, ‘Well...’ that articulates a separation between the executive and the legislative and it may be a bit innovative in how it words it, but that doesn’t give you enough to go on. You might need to understand, ‘Well, why did they decide to take that approach to that separations of powers question?’ And so learn what you need to learn to understand how that constitution and specific provisions within it came to be.

Help to fine-tune the final constitutional language. So for instance, there’s one tribe we’re working with right now and what they’re moving towards through their citizen engagement process on constitution reform is they’re envisioning, ‘At the end of the day we’re going to end up with basically a terms sheet.’ It’s basically going to be in very layman’s terms, ‘Here are the dozen or maybe two dozen key things we want to see in our new constitution. We want it to protect the language and preserve the language of the people, the native language of the people,’ or something like that. ‘We want a clear and distinct separations of powers between the executive branch, the legislative branch,’ whatever that might look like, whatever it might be. So there might be sort of layman’s terms-style provisions that then need to be taken by a lawyer who understands the legal language that might...that might be the role for you is, ‘How do we fine tune this?’ Another thing is to provide advice as to the legality of the new constitutional amendments. Because often constitutional amendments, if they’re not worded correctly, they might conflict with other laws that the nation has on the books. They might conflict with the actual constitution. An amendment might actually conflict with the rest of the constitution. So that might be a role that you as a lawyer could play.

Help the nation navigate the secretarial election process. So for a lot of nations, as I mentioned, who have that language in their constitutions that says, ‘If we want to change our constitution, we have to have the Secretary of Interior approve it.’ You actually have to go through a secretarial election. It’s an incredibly complex, thorny process and that’s where an attorney can play a role to say, ‘Okay, how do we navigate this process. Maybe there are other nations who’ve recently gone through this. I can call up their attorney and say, ‘What worked for you, what didn’t? How do we streamline this process? Are there certain people at the Bureau that I need to talk to who will be responsible on this thing so we can move this thing forward so our people aren’t waiting 18 months to get an election on something they already agreed to at the tribal level”?’

One of the key areas is you’d advise a nation on, ‘How do you actually implement this constitution?’ Because often these new constitutions or these constitutional amendments will mandate the creations of bodies of law by which those constitutional provisions are then enacted and it might be your role to say, ‘Okay, well, here’s how we actually implement these changes. We need to create laws for this and laws for that. We need to reconcile these conflicting laws we have or else we can’t fully enact this particular provision.’

And then you have to understand how the changes that the nation is either contemplating or the ones they’ve already made, what is it going to mean for how the nation can now exercise its jurisdiction and sovereignty? Because often if you look at some of these IRA constitutions, they’re very, very limited. They have a very limited conception of the nation’s sovereignty and suddenly when that nation then creates a new constitution, it really argues for a much broader, much fuller expression and exercise of sovereignty. So in your role as legal advisor, you’ve got to think, ‘Well, what does that mean in terms of how we deal with other governments, how we deal with private parties for instance? How does that...what does that mean we have to develop in terms of law? Does this mean we structure our contracts differently?’ So there’s this huge ripple effect that comes from constitutional change where the attorneys are going to be front and center.

So here’s some other things we’ve seen when it comes to constitutional conventions and public hearing processes. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this of the things I wanted to mention briefly is that it’s important for nations who are going down this constitution reform road to not automatically treat it as a one-shot deal. Often because of those political pressures, often because of the short-term windows, there’s a sense of urgency, there’s a sense of...and often it’s because of responding to crisis. There’s this sense of, ‘We’ve got to get it all done at once. We’ve only got one shot at the apple on this. We’ve got to collapse absolutely everything into this constitutional reform process that we’re currently engaged in. It’s basically an all-or-nothing proposition.’ And where that can really handicap tribes is almost invariably there’s going to be one issue or a couple of issues that are so divisive, that are so controversial that at some point they’re going to threaten to derail the process altogether. Often it’s things like citizenship. ‘Do we want to reduce our blood quantum criteria for citizenship? Do we want to get rid of it altogether?’ I can guarantee you that’s going to be controversial. It can be things like elections, it can be things like terms of office, it can be things like, ‘Do we want our elected officials to be fluent in the language of the people, the first language of the people?’

I worked with one tribe where that blew up the whole thing. They agreed on a bunch of other stuff, but the reform committee was divided right down the middle over that question and instead of saying, ‘Well, let’s set that one aside and proceed with what we agree upon,’ they said, ‘No, because we understand we’ve only got one shot at this, that’s our thinking, then it’s all or nothing,’ and it turned out to be nothing. And I read their draft constitution, it had some amazing things in it, some amazing things that only would have come from them. It is not something that any federal government bureaucrat would have ever dreamed up. It was definitely unique to them, but all that was lost because of disagreement over one thing that probably could have been tabled and an innovative solution could have been crafted over time and it could have been voted on separately.

And then when we’re seeing tribes abandon the Secretary of Interior approval clause and basically saying, ‘We’re going to leave it up to ourselves to determine how our constitution is going to be amended moving forward,’ a lot of thought needs to be given to that because you don’t want amending the constitution to be too easy because then it can be subject to the political whims of the day, the political, internecine fights of the day. You want to make it pretty difficult to change. Not impossible to change, but pretty difficult to change.

Another thing that more and more tribes are considering are older cultural solutions. If you look at some of the new constitutions that are being developed up in Canada by First Nations who are developing new constitutions either by abandoning the Indian Act or often they’re developing them in conjunction with these treaty processes that they’re going through with the provinces up there, some amazing innovative efforts to re-integrate governance principles, time-honored governance principles that are Indigenous to their own cultures. And it’s really fascinating and I think often we see First Nations in Canada looking to the tribes in the United States to learn from them about how do you engage in nation building, how do you engage in governance reform? And I think what we’re starting to see is that tribes in the U.S. have a...can learn a great deal from First Nations in Canada when it comes to constitutional reform and re-integrating culture. And not just culture in sort of the abstract, but culture in the ways that Indigenous nations lived traditionally, in the ways they thrived traditionally, the sophisticated governance mechanisms they had developed and honed over centuries and millennia to ensure their survival, ensure their prosperity. They’re bringing those things forward and they’re sort of tweaking them, they’re adapting them to meet the challenges that they face today in the 21st century.

So just some more information about some tips on the referendum process and again I think as attorneys this is where you’ll likely play a role. There’s the question of the secretarial election process, which is a federal election and then there’s the tribal election process where the tribal citizens come together and vote on this new constitution. And I won’t go through all these, but here’s an overview of some of the emerging best practices we’re seeing when it comes to the process of constitution reform.

And the one I added here is that when nations, and in particular constitutional reform bodies that they set up, have this conscious thought in mind that, ‘At the foundation of the work that we engage in on constitution reform and in the process of engaging the people about reform, we really need to set it up around two litmus tests of success and that’s trust and ownership.’ And basically the thinking is that, ‘We’ve got to do...we know the people, we’ve got...we know what the deterrents will be to them fully engaging this process. We’ve got to figure out, 'How do we overcome those obstacles, how do we engender in them a sense of trust in the process, which over time will ultimately lead to ownership in the result?’ Trust in the process and ownership in the result, and if you don’t have those things, you’re going to end up with that outcome where it was worse than what you started with."

Anthony Hill and Angela Wesley: The Process of Constitutional Reform: The Challenge of Citizen Engagement (Q&A)

Native Nations Institute

Presenters Anthony Hill and Angela Wesley field questions from the audience about the approaches their nations took to constitutional reform.

Resource Type

Hill, Anthony and Angela Wesley. "The Process of Constitutional Reform: The Challenge of Citizen Engagement." Tribal Constitutions Seminar. Native Nations Institute of Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Q&A Session.

Stephanie Cobenais:

"I'm Stephanie Cobenais, Red Lake Nation. Just one quick question for Angela: you said you guys did one-on-one --did you give incentives for the people to participate?"

Angela Wesley:

"Not direct, like it wasn't... that's not how we drew people in, but we tried to incorporate a lot of things when we met with our people in all different ways and a lot of it is the kind of things that are being done here is just door prizes, showing people that you appreciate them coming out. We didn't have a lot of money or a lot of budget to be able to be paying people to come out, so we tried to do other things that would compensate for their time and show people that we valued their time. So we would feed people really well, we would bring some of our drummers and dancers out and we would have...not just business, but we would also have the opportunity to share some culture while we were out. We would feed people well, give little door prizes and those kind of things, offer childcare so that children could be looked after and entertained while people are there participating. So we didn' general we didn't pay people to come to meetings but we did try to reach out as much as we could directly."

Audience Member:

"In regard to the Gila River and the coordinator positions, what again was the compensation involved? Ian [Record] had emphasized again that whatever commission be well-funded. What is the rule of thumb for compensation, the size of staff, how long and also how do you separate that funding so that it's not how do you say driven by politics?"

Judge Anthony Hill:

"The coordinator position I don't know the exact amount. If you can get me your information I can probably find that out because we did have a budget every year. The amount of staff, I think...the key point of that I think, hopefully everyone goes away with this, that you need outside lawyers to help you. I didn't get to this in my presentation, but eventually because things were fizzling out, they cut the funding off for the lawyer. So we had to utilize our general counsel for the tribe and of course the general counsel for the tribe in their office has their own interests in mind. They don't have the interests of the people; they have their own interests in looking out for their clients, who are the council. So it ended up, we ended up fighting with the lawyer who was supposed to be helping us. Regarding the level of staff, you need to remember that the commission members or the task force members, whatever you want to call them, that's not going to be their full-time job. You're going to need someone in a position where they're able to organize the meetings, do the paperwork and things like that. I thought we had a good staff with the project coordinator and the administrative assistant. Regarding the budget, it was was always political, because obviously our tribe operates on a year-to-year funding basis and we were always having to go to the council and ask for the money every year and then eventually, like I said, towards the end they just started cutting the funding because they said we were taking too long and things like that. So the beginning it was free of politics because everyone was behind it and at the end it got all tangled up in politics. So I don't think there's any way that you can get the funding out of the politics because it's part of the overall budget of the tribe."

Ian Record:

"Any other questions? One interesting thing I wanted to share with you that Anthony shared with me is, and actually Jill [Doerfler] and I were talking about this yesterday, is there really isn't any such thing as a failed reform effort. I think you would concur, Anthony, that no matter the outcome of this current effort, you've increased, enhanced the baseline understanding and interest in your own constitution and the importance of thinking about that. So that the next time you do convene a new effort, you'll start it sort of at a higher place, I guess you could say."

Judge Anthony Hill:

"Oh, absolutely, and the people remember it because they were such a part of it at the beginning. They always come and ask me, "˜Well, where is it? What happened to the input that we gave?' And I always tell them the truth. I'm always honest about it. But they remember it and they kind of shake their heads when they hear what happened to it, because what ends up happening is it makes them want to hold those council people accountable when it comes election time. And I'm's been two years, I don't know if it's had any impact on whether those who were against the reform were turned out of office. I've never really looked at it. But they still ask about it. They thought there were a lot of good ideas within it and they would like to still see them implemented. Again, my hope is, it's hopefully not all a lost cause because the promise, it's just a promise, is that we're going to go back to the full draft and it'll go to the people eventually. The council just felt that by taking the Secretarial election out, you removed the biggest obstacle. Why they didn't do that at the beginning I don't know, but that's the way the cookie crumbles."

Audience member:

"If I can add another question: What is the size and kind of the appropriateness of planning and legitimacy of planning in your structures, your government structures? Do you guys have robust planning departments and does that like have already community involvement? Is it something the community's familiar with? And also, kind of the underlying infrastructures, do you follow like long-term plans, land-use plans, ordinances and the like?"

Angela Wesley:

"Thank you. One of the things that has been new for us under treaty in particular having additional lands, is the land management component and resource management component. So that's something that we've been planning for and knew that it was coming, but it's probably one of the biggest new parts of our government that we're getting to know. We're very fortunate to have some people in our community that are so tied to the land and fit into those kind of roles quite well in planning for the effective day of our treaty. We actually did a lot of that work, we did a lot of the comprehensive community planning, land-use planning and that to prepare ourselves for what was coming forward. It is a struggle because it's a whole new area for us, but we definitely have been focusing on putting plans in place and did those with a lot of community input as well. We actually brought the maps out to people, gave them pens, told them to draw things on the map in terms of what they wanted for the future. We have...we had the good fortune actually of having a young man who was trained in forestry technology and had moved into GIS training as well, so he came in and became part of our lands department as well. So planning has been a big component of us moving forward."

Judge Anthony Hill:

"From the Gila River perspective, one of the good things they did was they recognized that with the constitutional change there was going to be changes in the structure of the government and a lot of people recognized that the current government structure, there was a lot of things wrong with it and what they did is they sort of put it on a parallel track to constitutional revision was reorganizing the government and that's a real...a lot of people think that's a sexy term, reorganizing the government. Is it like moving the deck chairs around on the deck of the Titanic? I don't know, but what the community did was they engaged Arizona State University to come in and look at the structure of the government and then based on the way the constitution was going to go, the government would be restructured in accordance with the new constitution, which would basically be a three-branch government. Unfortunately, what also happened with that is that also stalled as well. There were some...some of the initiatives that were implemented, reorganizing departments, putting them under what we call community managers under the executive branch or the guise of the executive branch, but beyond that there really hasn't been any change. You still have an organizational chart that's all over the place. And so unfortunately, that was a good intention, but like the constitution it kind of just stalled as well."

Frank Pommersheim: A Key Constitutional Issue: Dispute Resolution

Native Nations Institute

University of South Dakota Professor of Law Frank Pommersheim discusses the key constitutional issue of dispute resolution and presents three cases demonstrating how tribes are endowing their constitutions with legitimacy through the careful, thoughtful resolution of disputes.

Resource Type

Pommersheim, Frank. "A Key Constitutional Issue: Dispute Resolution." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. May 1, 2012. Presentation.

"I plan on leaving a lot of time for questions so we can have a good discussion. But I want to start by saying this, a number of you came up to me during the break asking me if I was Johnny Depp. I thank you for the compliment, but I'm not. But I appreciate that. But I also want to start by giving two examples of the importance of words and vision, because people have said how important words are and how important vision is, and I want to give from my own experience two concrete examples. One is very short but to the point. The second is much longer and had a much more profound influence on me. The first is, I think a number of tribes are aware that they have drug courts, that there's good funding that comes from the Justice Department and from the Bureau of Indian Affairs not only to tribes but to other communities around the nation to deal with the issue of drugs. And it looks to try to work with people who have drug problems and not focus so much on their criminal behavior. A very, very positive thing, a good thing. The federal government is actually trying to do a good thing in that way. But the people at Rosebud [Sioux], they think it's a good thing, but they didn't like the term drug courts because ‘drug court,' it sounds negative. And so what they did without anyone's permission, they just changed the name to ‘wellness court.' So the Rosebud Sioux Tribe has a wellness court that focuses on working with people who have committed crimes and have been involved with the use of drugs. But just think about that for a moment. To me that's a real profound difference between working with a drug court and a wellness court, because it shows the commitment of the people at Rosebud, that they want their members who have committed crimes who do have drug problems, they want them to be well. It's just like one word, the difference between ‘drug' and ‘wellness.' To me, it makes a tremendous amount of difference. And I actually see it in action, because when I listen to the tribal trial judges at Rosebud, when they talk about the wellness court, they talk about it with pride. They talk about how tribal members are really being healed and they're really changing. And I think part of that is because the drive is to get them well, not to punish them, not to be indifferent to the wrongs that they may have done, but to really focus on the good things. And I think one of the things to keep in mind in the context of tribal institutions in the courts, where I have most of my experience, or in a context of constitutions, is without being naïve, without being simple minded, to focus on the good and to focus on the positive.

The other example I want to give is a little bit broader example, because people are talking about sort of the importance of vision. And I think sometimes the word ‘vision' is kind of overused. It's a good word, it sounds great, but what does it actually mean? And I want to give one example. And again this comes from Rosebud. Thirty-five years ago, 40 years ago, before there were community colleges on most reservations, there were none. But there was one man at Rosebud by the name of Stanley Redbird, and Stanley had the vision that he wanted to start a college on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. No federal funding for it, no one had even really heard of that idea. But Stanley said, ‘We should have a college on the reservation. Why should people from Rosebud have to go off the reservation to go to college?' Well, it seemed obvious to most people. Rosebud Sioux reservation is in the middle of a very rural place in South Dakota, extremely impoverished, and you would think or most people would think, ‘You can't have a college here.' But Stanley had the vision, and he persisted. And he himself was not a college graduate. He himself was not even a high school graduate, but he persisted in his vision, and gathered around him a number of Native and non-Native people and said, ‘We can make this happen.' Without funding, without accreditation, but he had the vision, and his vision energized people, that you could do a good thing. I think that's a tremendously important thing, to be able to be energized by a vision to do something good, and in the context of starting a college. It started very slowly. Today it's fully accredited, offers not only AA [Associate of Arts] degrees, offers bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, [and] is getting certified for the first Ph.D. to be offered by a college on a reservation. Tremendously powerful. But the second part of that which kind of brings together a number of themes that I was hearing during the day is, education for what? Regis [Pecos] talked about Head Start. Head Start for what? And it's a very important question. Everybody's in favor of education, except some -- oh, this is recording -- except some Republicans. It's a joke. The thing is, is education for what purpose? And Stanley's vision was sort of the two-road approach. He wanted people educated on the reservation to know their tradition and culture, not just as something they knew, but something they could incorporate in their professional lives as teachers, as counselors, as lawyers, as doctors, but also not to ignore the good things that also come from the dominant society. And so the notion was to strike a balance, a creative balance. Hence, the two-road approach. So the people who went to college at Rosebud, at Sinte Gleska University, would know the best of the two roads. And so it was yes, education but education that didn't mindlessly accept the dominant society's view of education that meant just non-Indian, non-Native ways. That was unacceptable to Stanley and the people he gathered around him. So oftentimes there is a convergence at a high level of abstraction between Native and non-Native people about important issues, including constitutions. But one of the things you have to think through is below the abstraction, is what do you really want? And this has been one of the themes that I've been hearing all day is, what do tribal people want in their constitutions? How can you think about a tribal constitution? And Regis [Pecos] and Joe [Kalt] and others have given some very important ways to thinking about it.

I just want to add one or two things that are much more sort of practical in a way. One of the ways of thinking about law -- and I always have this for my students whether they're law students or not -- is you just ask, ‘What is law about?' Because I'm a teacher, I'm tempted to call on Bob [Hershey] to see if he could give me a good definition of what law is. But to me, what it is, it's about two things. It's about power and it's about values. Every law that exists, knowingly or unknowingly, is trying to support a particular value, and because it is the law, to a certain degree it has power behind it, because the power is what makes us obey the law even if we don't want to. So whenever we think about law -- there are good laws, there are bad laws, they cover the range, the continuum -- but the important thing always to ask ourselves is, ‘What is the particular value in that law? And what is the power that that government -- whether it's a tribal government, state government, provincial government, United States government -- that uses to enforce that particular value?' And so when tribes are thinking about constitutions, to me those are the two most important elements. What are the values? And that's the theme we've heard most of today -- that constitutions are about values. Absolutely critical, absolutely kind of central, but the other part, and Joe mentioned this a little bit, is sort of the power, because one thing that constitutions do -- and sometimes may or may not make you uncomfortable in talking about it this way -- is what? It distributes power, and that's just the reality of what a constitution is supposed to do in part -- to distribute the values, to distribute as it were the sovereignty, that a nation has to its constituent forms of government. And so when you think about constitutions broadly, those are the two things I would emphasize. What are the values that you want to see recognized, enshrined and supported in your constitution? And I think in many tribes there's quite a bit of convergence about that. Where there's more divergence is how you're going to distribute the power in the government to recognize and carry out and establish those values. And I think that's a very, very important kind of balance to keep in mind. How do you want to distribute the power?

When you look at that, roughly speaking, there's two ends of the continuum to look at. One is, traditionally, inasmuch as any tribe knows its true traditions, how was power distributed in your tribe traditionally? And two, is that still possible in some way today, in whole or in part, or not available at all today? Then the other model that's out there, which I think is a good model but it's a bit dangerous, is the model of the United States Constitution, the three branches of government, checks and balances, separation of powers. Well, they're good things, kind of, but I'm going to have a little asterisk next to them, because they're not inherently good unless that's what the people want. And one thing that's also true, because we were talking about constitutions today in terms of a lot of pressure, good pressure, from tribal members saying, ‘We want to improve our constitutions. We want to make them better.' And that's a tremendously good, positive and important thing. But I think it's also true, and one note that hasn't been struck, is that there's a lot of pressure on tribes to amend their constitution that doesn't come from within, but comes from without. And this is particularly true in the context of economic development and Joe touched on it a bit. Today in South Dakota, routinely when businessmen want to do business on the reservation, you know almost the first thing they ask, ‘Does the tribe have a separation of powers?' Now most businessmen, when they say separation of powers, if you could ask them a follow-up question, they themselves don't know what the hell the separation of powers is. It's just what their lawyers tell them. And so part of the deal about the separation of powers is, businessmen aren't really interested in the separation of powers, they are just interested, justifiably so, they want a business atmosphere where they can make money and where the rules of the game are predictable. That's what they really want. And they've been told that separation of powers sort of guarantees that. And in some ways it does and in some ways it doesn't. So I think tribes have to pay close attention not only to what's coming up from themselves and their communities but certainly in the states and certainly in South Dakota, tribes need to be alert to -- not necessarily a bad thing -- but they need to be alert to the pressures that come from the outside that say the tribes have to amend their constitutions, particularly to have separation of powers, to create a good business atmosphere. That's fine. But tribes have to realize where the pressure is coming from and what they are reacting to, what they are trying to achieve. That is again, what are the values? And if one of the contemporary values is economic development, which it is probably in every tribe in the country, then it's a legitimate question, Joe Kalt was suggesting this, that a tribe needs to ask itself. What is it that we can or should have in our tribal constitution that will enhance economic development? And I think the major thing in a tribal constitution -- any constitution -- that enhances economic development is to have a structure and distribution of powers which creates a fair, predictable rules of the game, rules of the road. So if somebody's going to come to your reservation and do business, they're entitled to know what the rules of the road are. And if they don't like the rules of the road on your reservation, fine, they can go someplace else. But they are entitled, I think, to know, and when we talk about responsibility, arguably the tribe has a responsibility to people who are coming and perhaps doing business, tell them what the rules of the road are and what their constitution says or doesn't say about economic development. So I think it's important to keep track of these two streams of pressure for constitutional reform, because in my view there definitely are these two streams. Not just one stream from the people themselves, but there is this outer stream, and tribes need to kind of thread their way through that.

The other thing I wanted to talk a little bit about -- before getting to this dispute resolution issue -- is this notion of to me two critical things are, and this note has been kind of mentioned a few times as well, is legitimacy. Any constitution will only work because it's perceived as legitimate by the people who are subject to it, that you accept it. Bush v. Gore is being used as an example. A terrible decision, an outrageous decision in which then Chief Justice [William] Rehnquist himself said in the aftermath, ‘This case can never be used as precedent in any other case.' I mean a fairly frank admission that the decision, in my opinion, blatantly political, but most American citizens kind of shrugged and said, ‘Okay. A bad decision, but we're not going to abandon a constitution.' Why? Because there's a longstanding commitment to it as being legitimate. Legitimate not because of its perfection, arguably legitimate because of its imperfection. Because if any of you actually read the constitution, know its surrounding circumstances, it wasn't perfect at the beginning. I mean, the United States Constitution recognized and accepted slavery. How could that kind of constitution be a model for anyone if it recognized and legitimized slavery? And so it was imperfect. And actually although it's kind of slidden away, there were some good things in the Constitution from my point of view about the relationship of the United States, the fledgling United States, to Indian nations. There was a great deal of respect actually in the Constitution as originally written for tribal sovereignty. There's a recognition in the Indian Commerce Clause that Congress only had the authority to recognize and regulate trade with Indian tribes, not to regulate the trade of Indian tribes. The Constitution recognized that the fledgling United States didn't have the authority to go into Indian country. It said basically, ‘You're sovereign, we make treaties with you. You're sovereign, you're separate.' Commerce is important to us, and so in our distribution of powers, that power was granted to Congress. So it was Congress who had that authority, and also an important issue in the context of the Constitution was that there was tension and battle between the fledgling federal government and the states who would have authority to deal with Indian tribes. The United States Constitution placed all that authority in the federal government, none in the states. And within the federal government, they gave all that power strictly in the area of commerce to the legislative branch. But this segues into the next thing about interpretation. Unfortunately it was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1903 called Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock and all that stuff that I just said, the Supreme Court at that time just leapfrogged the plain meaning and the historical backdrop to the Indian Commerce Clause and said somehow, ‘Congress has plenary authority in Indian affairs, complete, untrammeled authority.' But it takes some work to get that from the text of the Constitution and from its history. And so this notion of legitimacy is absolutely central.

And when I think about legitimacy, I think there are three components to it in the context of Indian Country. Legitimacy comes primarily from the people. Tribal citizens who need to be consulted and hopefully participate directly and often in developing their constitution and/or amending that constitution when it's necessary. Because I think the ultimate source of power for any sovereign is ultimately not really in the government but in the people. Because the thing that's often left out when we talk about or learn about the United States Constitution in basic civics is the power comes from the people, and the people reserve that right to make changes in the Constitution, to amend it, to bend it however necessary to meet contemporary standards. And so my understanding in working with tribes in South Dakota that they have basically the same view is that the power is ultimately in the people, not in the government. And so one important component of legitimacy comes from the people. So when a constitution is being discussed and when it's ultimately voted on, how many tribal people are participating?

And two is part of that, the second group that's important, is the leadership. Official, unofficial, elected, not elected, traditional, non-traditional, people who are perceived as leaders. This is what leaders do. The best definition I ever heard of leadership is, leadership is managing learning in a group. That's what leaders do. They manage learning in a group, whether it's in a family, whether it's in a classroom, or whether it's being chair person of the tribe or president of the United States. And so authentic leaders -- and this idea of legitimacy -- they're the ones that manage in a good way the learning that takes place. That's what good leaders do, whether elected or not, none of that.

And then finally, I don't know if Joe's still here, Joe, no, Joe's not here. I'm coming to the defense of lawyers. Yes, indeed. The third group that is important, and I mean this quite seriously and I'll explain it, that lawyers are important. No, strike that, good lawyers are important, because it is true that ultimately in the modern world, constitutions at some point have to be drafted and written in a very, very thoughtful, complete, precise way, and the persons on balance who should have those drafting and expressive skills are lawyers. But it's also important to remember -- and I always tell my students this -- the people who have caused the most destruction in modern Indian law today are largely lawyers. Because lawyers, I tell my students, if a tribe is represented by a lawyer, and the tribe asks the lawyer, ‘Can we do this? And the lawyer says, ‘No, you probably can't do it because you haven't checked with the federal government.' That lawyer should be fired. He's just engaged in malpractice. But on the other end are lawyers, a tribe asks, ‘Can we do this?' And those lawyers say, ‘Well, you can do anything, you're sovereign.' I also believe they should be fired, because you can get people off the street to give you that kind of advice. It takes a lawyer with understanding, nuanced understanding, of what the tribe wants to do. But it's not a blank slate. History is out there. It doesn't mean you cave in to history, but good lawyers can help tribes navigate the treacheries of past and current history and their interaction with the federal and state governments. I don't believe you can pretend that that reality doesn't exist, and that's what good lawyers can do. They can help. They never tell tribes what to do, but they can help tribes get from where they are to where they want to be in the best possible way that avoids difficulty down the road because tribal attorneys who say, ‘You're sovereign, you can do whatever you want, now pay me and I'm going to leave.' And the tribe is left with that legacy when that advice turns out not to be too reliable in today's real, complex world. So I think lawyers are important. But more importantly, good lawyers are important. And good lawyers in Indian Country, I think there are two essential characteristics that they need. They need to be good lawyers, they need to be smart, they need to have the skills to navigate the law and to draft, but they have to understand the tribe they work for. They have to understand its history and its culture and perhaps more importantly, this is a dangerous word, they need to have affection for the people they work with, because without affection I don't think you can really accomplish the important things that tribes are kind of struggling to do. So this thing about legitimacy is absolutely essential, because it will happen -- and I'm going to give some examples in a minute -- that tribes are faced with very difficult questions, and the notion is, once a decision has been made, a tribal constitutional decision has been made, is there enough legitimacy -- that as Joe was suggesting -- if you're on the side that lost or if you're on the side that doesn't like the result, because it's legitimate, will you accept a decision that you disagree with? It's easy to accept decisions that you agree with. That's easy. We can all do that. But it's very, very difficult sometimes for citizens, particularly when a constitution is new, is to be able to accept decisions that you disagree with. That's what legitimacy is. It means that the constitution and its values and its structures are more important than your individual feeling or the feeling of any particular group with the tribe. Because without a sense of legitimacy, constitutions are just a bunch of false promises, and I guarantee that to be true. If a constitution doesn't have legitimacy, it's false, because as soon as the tribe faces its first most difficult decision, if there's not legitimacy, the constitution will be finished. Because the constitution really only works, any constitution only works is because it's legitimate. This is what oftentimes we mean by -- though it's a phrase that's been overused and misunderstood -- about the ‘rule of law.' You always hear that phrase in Indian Country. Do tribes have the rule of law? Actually, you hear it more in sort of foreign policy discussions. Whenever we're helping out foreign nations, the two things that are always parroted is, ‘We want to bring the rule of law to this country.' Well, it's sort of a yes-and-no proposition. If you're bringing bad law to those countries, what good is the rule of law if it's bad? So the notion about getting the rule of law is that your commitment, as others have suggested, both from your mind and from your heart and from your tradition, is that you believe enough that you can accept a decision that is contrary to your own interests. And without that, I think constitutions are yet another set of false promises. So legitimacy is key, and it doesn't just happen one time as you're going forward to the constitution, but legitimacy is always at risk. You don't learn this in high school, but in the context of American history there have been instances involving the United States Constitution when its legitimacy was actually at risk, and no guarantee that it was going to work. And strangely or not strangely enough, the first genuine constitutional crisis in American history involved two Indian law cases decided by the Supreme Court in 1830 and 1831: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia. Most of you have probably heard about them. But the background of those cases were the state -- can you imagine this today -- in both of those cases the State of Georgia did not even appear to argue before the Supreme Court? Can you imagine that, that one of the constituent states to the Union in early days of the Constitution said, well, I won't use that word, but I'll use a nicer word and just say, ‘We're not going to appear before the United States Supreme Court, because it doesn't have any legitimacy to tell us, the State of Georgia, what we can or can't do in Indian affairs.' So you had amazing tension in those cases between the federal government and the State of Georgia. But you had even another tension. You had a tension between the executive branch and the judicial branch. You know, when the Supreme Court makes a decision, everybody plays by the rules, it's just enforced. But what happens -- particularly when it involves someone who's in prison -- if you don't play by the rules? Worcester v. Georgia, United States Supreme Court said to the State of Georgia, ‘You didn't have jurisdiction to convict these two non-Indian ministers who were preaching on the Cherokee Nation reservation and you wrongly convicted them. You have to let them go free.' And who would that be carried out by? Then-Chief Justice Marshall didn't go marching to the capital of Georgia to let those folks out. That's the responsibility of the executive branch of the federal government. That's the Marshals Service. Ultimately, it's the President of the United States. And what did the then-President of the United States say? Some people think it's apocryphal, but President [Andrew] Jackson said, ‘Whatever. Chief Justice Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.' Meaning that the executive branch wasn't going to support a decision of the United States Supreme Court. Do you think the republic could endure if states felt free on a regular basis to not appear before the United States Supreme Court? Do you think the republic could survive if the executive branch on a routine basis said that it would not enforce judgments of the United States Supreme Court? And the answer is no. Fortunately -- or maybe unfortunately depending on your point of view -- is that what happened is that the court went into recess, President Jackson realized the republic was becoming unraveled. South Carolina passed the resolution they were going to leave the Union. And so he realized that he couldn't be, refuse to enforce a judgment and let the State of Georgia get away with its disrespect for the Supreme Court. And so he convinced the Governor of Georgia to pardon those two defendants who had been convicted. So right from early Indian law history there was a genuine constitutional crisis about whether the United States Constitution had enough legitimacy to survive that crisis. And it's important to realize I think, without inviting it, that sometimes tribes will face crises of their own about the meaning of their constitution. But my thinking is that you have to hold fast to the values and the structure that you can accept the decision, work with it, even when that decision seems to you to be against your interests and may seem to you quite wrong as a matter of constitutional interpretation. Because without legitimacy, constitutions cannot continue to function and that's the most difficult thing to establish at the front end, and it's the most difficult thing to maintain. And so it's important for tribes as they go through adopting constitutions or revising constitutions to insure that they have legitimacy. Legitimacy means what? Talking all the time, being respectful [of] what others say, particularly others that you disagree with, and that they're respectful of you and that you remember that you are united in your support of the values, you're united in the support of the structure, even though you might disagree with a particular decision.

So let me conclude by giving three examples and three cases that I served on the appellate courts of these three tribal nations. The first case comes from the Saginaw Chippewa in Michigan. People talked a little bit today about one of the critical issues for tribes in the U.S. is membership, enrollment. But nobody talked about the flip side of that and the flip side is disenrollment, a very painful, a very powerful force within a number of tribes. And so a case came up at Saginaw where the tribal council there began to disenroll people and a number of people thought it was just wrong. And so they brought a suit in tribal court raising the question, a very important question, ‘What power does the Saginaw Chippewa tribal council have to disenroll people?' It's a very powerful, though perhaps painful, question. And it would be a good question for all of you to ask yourselves, ‘What power in your own tribe does your constitution say about who has the power to disenroll for what reasons under what circumstances, or does it really address the issue at all? And so the case at Saginaw, and I'll simplify it a little bit, the view of the tribe was -- represented by an excellent attorney -- and the view that the tribe had plenary power to disenroll people for whatever good reason it thought. The challengers -- also represented by an excellent attorney -- took the position, ‘Well, if you look at the tribal constitution, it's an important, really basic question, what is the structure of this tribe's constitution?' And what it meant by ‘the structure' is this, and I think it's a very important question for every tribal member to ask about his or her constitution. And it is this: Tribal constitutions structurally, from an overall point of view, can be organized into two categories. One is what we might call a ‘plenary power' constitution. A plenary power constitution means in the text of that constitution, all the power of the tribe is granted to the tribal government and none of that power is reserved directly to the people, and there are tribal constitutions that do this, I've seen them. There are also many tribal constitutions, in fact probably more tribal constitutions, that are what I would call a delegated powers model, in which the power of the tribal people is delegated in a specific manner to the tribal government itself, and all powers not delegated or enumerated to the tribal government are reserved to the people. And I think, structurally, that is probably the most important structural question for tribes. All the power to the tribal government, or only some and the rest of it reserved to the people. And for those of you who are members of tribes that have tribal constitutions, look at your tribal constitution or look at it again and see how you would answer the question about whether it's an enumerated powers constitution or whether it's a plenary power constitution. So that was one of the big questions in the Saginaw case. And we reached the conclusion -- we being the court -- reached the conclusion that the Saginaw Chippewa tribal constitution, which was adopted in a revised edition in 1986, was an enumerated powers constitution, and the tribal council only had the expressed powers that were set out in the constitution. And so we went then to those enumerated powers, and there was some limited, direct recognition of the power of the tribal council to disenroll people. But they were very limited powers. They were limited to members who were enrolled in more than one tribe, and it also mentioned that they had the power to disenroll people who had been adopted into the tribe and their parents divorced. It didn't seem like the constitution gave the tribal council any broader power. Then the question was, ‘Does the tribal council have any inherent powers to disenroll?' ‘Cause that's another thing that comes up sometimes. It comes up with the United States Constitution, sometimes comes up with tribal constitutions. Even though it's not specifically mentioned in the constitution, does a tribe under some circumstances have inherent power to do X. And we decided in the Saginaw case that the only inherent powers that the tribal council had to disenroll people were for two reasons. If it could be proved that a person became a tribal member through fraud. We took the position that a tribe must have the inherent power to disenroll people if they can prove that those people became tribal members through fraud or mistake, because sometimes mistakes happen in the context of enrollment, particularly in the context of blood quantum, ‘cause blood quantum ultimately is what? It's ultimately a math problem, and so if you have somebody working in the enrollment office that's not that good at math, they might have got the fractions wrong and someone gets enrolled not because of fraud, but because of a mistake, and that's the position that we took. But that's not quite the end of the story, because it all doubles back to legitimacy. We made that decision and we said that the people who had been disenrolled had been disenrolled improperly, and if the tribe was going to disenroll them, they had to have another disenrollment ordinance, they could only do it for the grounds that were identified in the constitution and they had to provide due process, notice and the opportunity to be heard. This is very important from a tribal judiciary point of view. It's how you say what you say, because when we made that decision, the tribe might have said what? They might have said, ‘Go fly a kite.' They might have fired us on the spot.

So when a tribal court makes an important decision interpreting the tribal constitution, this is where legitimacy comes into play, because sometimes tribes can, will, although they're less likely to these days, is to say, ‘No, we don't recognize you the tribal court, and we're just going to go about what we've been doing.' And so there are two things there. One is -- and I'll give another example in a moment -- is how well tribal decisions are written, how thoughtful they actually are, how familiar they actually are in talking about tribal tradition and custom, because in the context of the Saginaw case, we looked back to the history of enrollment for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe. It had a lot of adverse, troubling conditions imposed by the federal government that created a very difficult situation in Saginaw in determining members and it wasn't really the tribe's fault. It was the fault of the federal government who created these kind of crazy rules. But we understood that and we said that. And we tried to show respect to the tribe itself -- meaning the executive branch -- and to the plaintiffs and to tradition and custom. We talked about unity. We talked about respect. And they're just words, but you can make the power of expression, you can use the right words the right way and you can make a powerful expression. And so -- and this is my opinion and I'm not neutral because I worked on that case -- the tribe didn't like the decision. They definitely did not. But what did they do? They accepted it. You could see it in the tribal newspaper. It's incredible. It's like the statement in the tribal newspaper reads like this, ‘We disagree strongly with the decision of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Court of Appeals, but we're going to follow it.' That's legitimacy. And so tribal courts themselves have a powerful responsibility, in the way you write your opinions, to show respect, to try to lead the way even when one side wins and the other side loses, is to try to show that there's a way of harmony, there's a way of respect. It might not always work, but you have to do it, I believe, and all good tribal judges and tribal appellate justices do that. You kind of think in the context of respect, and it makes a difference.

I'll give one other...I'll give two more examples. One was a case from Cheyenne River [Sioux Tribe], it's actually an ongoing case. Issue came up at Cheyenne River, because they have a provision in their constitution about redistricting. Their constitution -- as most tribal constitutions [do] -- say that tribal council members will be elected from certain districts. Well, at Cheyenne River the constitution was adopted, it's an IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution. It was adopted in the ‘30s. And so some people were saying, ‘Well, the population and demographic patterns in those communities have changed dramatically and therefore there should be redistricting.' And interesting enough in the Cheyenne River Sioux constitution, it actually expressly says that you can amend the constitution and so you could amend for redistricting purposes, but it also said the tribal council shall redistrict. And arguably the tribal council hadn't redistricted, so there was a challenge saying that the tribal council wasn't carrying out its constitutional responsibilities to redistrict the reservation and I'll just cut to the interest thing. The plaintiffs, the challengers, the relief they were asking for, they wanted the court, they wanted the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court of Appeals to make, to order the Bureau of Indian Affairs to supervise the next election or, in the alternative, they wanted the court itself, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court of Appeals, to monitor and oversee the election. And the members on the court said, ‘We're not going there. What does that have to do with self-determination to ask the Bureau to come in and supervise an election?' And so despite ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the challengers, we didn't adopt their proposed remedy. We just said -- and again easier said than done -- we just said that we expect the tribal council, and we set a timeframe, to go forward and come up with a redistricting plan. And so there, there's another sort of cautionary note, that even when you rule in favor of one party in the context of a constitutional dispute, be careful about the remedy that you order to be implemented, even when it's requested by the parties. And again, it takes a certain kind of sensitivity to that.

Last example -- this kind of stuff hasn't been mentioned at all today -- and I do want to mention it and then I'll finish. This case comes from Rosebud. A lot of tribes in their constitution -- hasn't been mentioned at all today, maybe Joe mentioned it quickly -- but there's a lot of pressure internally and externally on tribes to insure in their tribal constitutions that they have Bill of Rights protections, that there is the right to free expression, free exercise of religion, all that. But also because many tribal constitutions in their Bill of Rights section -- if they have one -- is modeled after the Indian Civil Rights Act. And so oftentimes they'll be like sort of what we call Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. And so when you have that kind of language in a tribal constitution that is a direct replica of the Indian Civil Rights [Act] protection, this is just an example, against unreasonable search and seizure, and that language also models the Fourth Amendment, and then a tribal member is a criminal defendant in a tribal court prosecution, he wants to challenge his arrest. She wants to challenge the arrest as lacking probable cause. They want to say that evidence was seized impermissibly, and that the evidence should be suppressed and their conviction should be reversed. And this is a very important question for tribal appellate courts. When you have Bill of Rights-like language in the context of stuff that applies in the context of criminal prosecutions, does the tribe intend that that language -- and I'm just using the Fourth Amendment -- do they intend that it be interpreted just like the Fourth Amendment to the United States constitution, where there are warrant requirements, the exclusionary rule, all that kind of stuff, or do they mean something different? And if they don't have anything in the constitutional history or discussion when they adopt that language, they're not providing very much direction to the court itself about how it, that is the people, think about these constitution-like protections which have very similar language to the United States Constitution and oftentimes the Indian Civil Rights Act. And the tribe needs to speak -- when they're talking about individual rights because my experience has been with the tribes in South Dakota, tribes are interested in individual rights. To me, it wouldn't be accurate to say that tribal people are all sort of communal, they have no sense of individual rights. It's a balance, and the people who are adopting the constitution, if you're going to have that kind of language in the constitution, you need to provide some background for the court about do you mean just like the Fourth Amendment or not quite like the Fourth Amendment? So whenever you're copying language I guess, borrowing language that comes from the United States Constitution or from the Indian Civil Rights Act, it's really important that there be discussion, documents that show is it just the values that you're interested in, fairness and privacy, or are you inclined to want the exact rules that come from the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, particularly in the context of prosecuting tribal defendants? If you believe that exclusionary rules should apply, that means X number of tribal convictions are going to be reversed. Is that where the tribe stands as a matter of value or not quite, [it] may have something else in mind.

So those are just sort of three examples in three different contexts. Disenrollment, district representation and the rights of criminal defendants, where those are from three real cases [from] three different tribes that I've worked with in terms of interpreting. They're all about interpretation, because that's ultimately what courts do, because however well a constitution is drafted, and the well drafted the better, no doubt about it, but ultimately there are going to be issues of interpretation. And so you have to think about interpretation. And one of the ways the tribal people can aid the court ultimately in interpretation is not just simply adopting the constitution and the language but the stuff that goes with it. Are there tribal constitutional debates, meetings, that are recorded that become part of the tribe's constitutional record, so that when a case comes up and people say what the people really meant was X, that there is testimony, oral history reduced to writing about how tribal people -- the people who give the constitution legitimacy -- how they were thinking about that particular provision of a constitution. Because it's totally inaccurate to think that a constitution is simply going to be interpreted based on the bare bones text that's in the constitution, however well it's been drafted. And so to me two key things that bracket constitutional thinking is legitimacy now, forever and always, and interpretation and an ongoing kind of commitment of tribal people to their constitution. And it might need revision at certain times. The United States Constitution has been amended any number of times. Very few constitutions survive and have authenticity and legitimacy without the necessity of being amended at certain times. And again it's a very powerful notion in terms of education, because education is a very valuable component that gives legitimacy. Because too often the education that people get in high school and even in college about the United States Constitution I don't believe is very effective or fair, because it's too, it's too self congratulatory about the constitution is great, we're great, duh. There's got to be more to it, because a long-lasting constitution is not inherently great. It takes legitimacy, it takes mistakes, and that's what tribal people themselves I think have to realize, and your children and grandchildren, about it's an ongoing process to be educated to think about any constitution, but particularly a tribal constitution.

Todd Hembree: A Key Constitutional Issue: Separations of Powers (Q&A)

Native Nations Institute

Cherokee Nation Attorney General fields questions about the critical role of separations of powers in effective Native nation governance and how the Cherokee Nation instituted an array of separations of powers in the development of their new constitution

Native Nations
Resource Type

Hembree, Todd. "A Key Constitutional Issue: Separations of Powers." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. May 1, 2012. Presentation.

Q: With your election commission, how did you develop it and make it work?

Hembree: Well, it's worked real well. The constitution states that there will be a permanent election commission, so in the past before our constitution would come in, we ran it by ordinance that it would come into effect six months before an election and end six months after elections. Here, the constitution says that this is going to be a permanent body, so therefore these commissioners are appointed for a term of years, and that's a staggered term of years. How we did that in our enabling legislation is very good, because we wanted to have a diverse body. So under our code, the legislative branch -- the tribal council -- gets to pick two members of that commission, carte blanche. The chief doesn't get to veto it or anything. The 17 tribal council members chose those two. Then the principal chief, the executive branch, he gets two members, carte blanche. He gets those two, right off the bat. Now obviously you don't want just four members because you can end up with a tie, so we wanted to have five members to this. So those four members, the two from the executive branch and the two from the legislative branch, they get together and they pick a fifth that has to be approved by both the legislature and the principal chief. So again, building in the process of independence and insulating itself from the political structure as much as possible. Anyone else? Yes.

Q: My name is Chase Iron Eyes and I have a question. What I'd like you to talk about, "˜cause I'm an attorney as well, and one thing that I've run into that I don't know if the Cherokee Nation has run into, is that a lot of times the people that you work for, the client, doesn't know that there is such a thing -- and I don't know the full scope of it either -- but the difference between an attorney general, general counsel, in-house attorney, legislative council, all those things. Is there some examples or something you can offer to talk about that?

Hembree: Fantastic question, because as an attorney, the first thing you need to know is who your client is. Now in our system of government, I as the attorney general, I am the attorney for the Cherokee Nation. I am not the chief's attorney, I am not the tribal council's attorney. Now we have the ability for the legislative branch, the tribal council, to hire their own independent counsel. Twelve years ago I was their first council attorney that they had ever hired, to be their representative. So it is important that each branch have their own independent counsel. The legislators have theirs, the principle chief has his own counsel that answers only to him and looks to him to represent his interests and promote the policies that he wants to promote. Obviously, the legislative attorney will insure that all legislative processes and the rules of the procedures of the council are followed but I as myself, as the attorney general, I'm independent.

Now again, we're fortunate. We have the resources to do that. There are a number of tribes that they're lucky to have one counsel and in that instance it needs to be, that attorney, whoever he or she may be, needs to spell out distinctly, okay, who am I working for? Am I attorney for the tribe itself, so do I have a globalistic or holistic approach to my representation? Do I only represent the chief, or do I represent the tribal council? Those are things, they're questions that have to be answered right up front. If you can put it into a structure, we have a good one, the Cherokee Nation does have a good one. But [be] mindful that we all don't have the same resources. When an outside counsel comes along, the first thing that they need to determine for their sake and the sake of the tribe is who do I represent? Because believe you me, I've seen instances where they've tried to represent all parties, and they end up with conflicts of interest that are definitely not attractive. Anything else? Anyone else? Well, again, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for your hospitality and any time you're near Tahlequah, come on by. We'll make a good host. Thank you."