Secretary of Interior approval clause

Good Native Governance Break Out 3: Tribal Constitutional Revitalization

Producer
UCLA School of Law
Year

UCLA School of Law "Good Native Governance" conference presenters, panelists and participants Melissa L. Tatum, Devon Lee Lomayesva, and Jill Doerfler discuss constitutional reform efforts. Melissa describes the purpose of consitutions. Using her own Nation's experience, Devon discusses the Iipay Nation's constitutional reform process. Dr. Doerfler talks about the White Earth Nation's recent consitutional efforts.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.

Citation

Tatum, Melissa L. "Tribal Constitutional Revitalization." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Lomayesva, Devon Lee. "Tribal Constitutional Revitalization." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Doerfler, Jill. "Tribal Constitutional Revitalization." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Andrew Martinez: Constitutional Reform: The Secretarial Election Process

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Native Nations Institute's Andrew Martinez (Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community) gives participants a concise and informative overview of how the secretarial election process works when Native nations amend their constitutions, and what happens (and doesn't) when Native nations remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause from their constitutions.

Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Martinez, Andrew. "Constitutional Reform: The Secretarial Election Process." Tribal Constitutions seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management & Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Presentation.

Andrew Martinez:

"Good afternoon. My name is Andrew Martinez. I'm originally from San Diego, California. I grew up on the Mesa Grande Indian Reservation out there. And just for scale, it takes about two minutes to drive through on the highway. It's pretty small. I came to NNI last semester as an intern. I just kind of wandered into the office, spoke to Joan, she decided to take me on. I was given the task to look into the secretarial election process and the first thing she said is like, "'Go to the 25 CFR.' I'm a business major; I'm a minor in public policy and management. I'd never look at 25 CFR. I was very, very lost and the more I read it or the first time I looked at it I was very confused, but I had to continue to go over it and go over it and through numerous Google searches I started to discover a pathway through it and that's what I'm here to clarify for you today.

So getting started I'm going to cover the objectives that I was given last semester to basically understand, once I'm going through this process, cover some background on the secretarial election process, specifically to remove the secretarial approval clause from the IRA constitutions, the Indian Reorganization Act constitutions. After the background, I'll step into the legal process in Section 82 and 81 of the Code of Federal Regulations hitting on the actual code and then also discussing tribal action that happens during that time. And these are basically observations that I've made from the tribes that have gone through this process. And I'll end with some documents that I feel that will be helpful for those of you who are undergoing this process right now and drafting your constitutions, and then also show you some more legal documents that Dr. [Robert] Hershey was talking about and open the floor up to questions. And if you would, I'll be asking my own questions. This is the first time I'm giving this presentation to an audience who really has experience in this process. So if you're willing to help me out here, help me understand the process that much better, that would be great.

So starting out, I was tasked with understanding the timeline, basically the framework that exists with the secretarial election process right now. There was no established timeline prior to 1988. That came with an amendment. I found out the amendment happened, looked at the timeline. My next question was, what brought on that amendment? Looked further, I found one case, Coyote Valley Band. Three tribes sued the United States, basically because they wanted to reform their constitutions, submitted documentation to the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] agency, and got no action. One of the tribes waited a couple months; another tribe waited a couple years, no action at all. The ruling was in favor of the tribes and now we have the established framework that I'll be presenting today.

The second is to understand the interactions that happen within the secretarial election process, from the petitioning process, the tribal council interactions, the tribal membership and citizenship, even with the constitutional reform task force or committees that are initiated. And then once the official documents have been submitted to the local agency office, where do they go, how far up do they go? This is where I really started to get interested, and I have to say I got quite excited when I was able to find official BIA paperwork online.

So getting to the background. These points that are on the slide I pulled from presentations that were given during information sessions by tribes to their citizens. A secretarial election is not a tribal election, it's a federal election; therefore, you have to register separately. Second, it's authorized by the Secretary of Interior. That's what the language says. However, the paperwork only works up to the regional director unless there's an issue that needs to be clarified past that. And to clarify that, the Pueblo of Laguna who -- I think both of their representatives have left already, that's okay. Thank you for that. Thank you for posting that. That was very helpful for me, clarifying that it is the regional director that calls the election. And then why is it conducted? For the purpose of allowing tribes to reorganize under a federal statue, specifically the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act], to amend, ratify, revoke their constitutions, bylaws or tribal charters.

And I know that we have some representatives that are not from the U.S., so I put this in here to clarify the language. This is what the typical BIA constitution amendment section looks like and what a lot of us are hitting on today is removing the Secretary of Interior approval clause from that. As you can see, it's noted four times within this section. And this is the BIA template constitution. When you look at other IRA constitutions around the U.S., it looks very similar and when tribes are going through the secretarial election process now, this is the main concern, removing this so that they can put themselves into the driver's seat.

So getting into Section 82, the petitioning process. This is a lot of back-end work for the tribes. This is where the constitutional reform task force is formed. Sticking with the objectives that I was given, I'll only be hitting the points that discuss deadlines and interactions. Starting with 85, the official text of the Code of Federal Regulations notes that there will be a cutoff date once the petition has begun circulating, however it doesn't really specify that.

Filing a petition: Once all signatures have been collected, adequate amount of signatures have been collected, it's submitted to the local agency office by the tribal representative, they choose to make comments, return it back to the tribe, the tribe can accept or reject those comments and then it's returned back for the official filing date. Any challenges to the signatures on the petition must be brought within 15 days. This is the first...well, actually this isn't the first, but this is one of the many points where this process can be stopped, once these challenges are brought. Then, action on the petition. The area director or commissioner, regional director when reviewing has 45 days to review the documents and decide and also assess all the challenges that have been brought.

So tribal action during this point. The tribe will have identified whether it wants to reform its entire constitution during this process or simply hit one amendment or article. And I've seen successes and failures with the searches that I've done, the research, on both ends. Some tribes are successful, some tribes are not. Lac du Flambeau [Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians] just went through this process earlier this year, I think January or February, just to remove that approval clause, secretarial approval clause, failed. White Earth [Nation] reformed their entire constitution, passed. So there's no simple path to success during this process.

Again, Ian [Record] spoke about holding tribal education sessions, keeping tribal members informed, keeping them engaged and keeping them motivated. Make sure that they understand what's happening. Make sure that they understand their constitution how it is right now. Compile a membership list. I put that up there so that those who are actually going through this process specifically on the task force or constitutional reform committee, that they know the exact numbers that they have to hit, the adult members and the petitions, their signatures they need on petitions. And also consider, at this point you haven't submitted documents to the local agency office, consider at this point to who's going to serve on the secretarial election board once approval is given and I'll speak about that more later on. Circulate the petition -- 180 days to circulate the petition from the date of the first signature.

Now I pulled this date off of a document loaded to the BIA website. It's noted' DRAFT 2009.' Can anyone confirm this or deny this for me? Does anyone have any info? No? Okay. If anyone happens to come across any language that clarifies that, please send it to me. And then you will be submitting all documents to the local agency office.

At this point, setting tribally imposed deadlines, I think, is appropriate. Again keeping people motivated. Currently, Pascua Yaqui [Tribe] is going through this process. When I first gave this talk last semester to the managers at the Native Nations Institute, it was the week after they held their first education session. They continued to do this and one of the focus on amending one of the articles is removing the Secretarial approval clause from their amendment section. There are a lot of lawsuits that come out of this process. This is one of them and bringing the attention to the second point, the text of the proposed amendment was numbered rather than labeled alphabetically. Again, there's a lot of steps that can hang up tribes when trying to go through this process. If the petition or official documents once submitted are not deemed appropriate, the process needs to start all over again.

Now moving onto Section 81, Secretarial Election Process. This is once authorization has been given, official documents have been approved. Again, sticking with only the deadlines and interactions, picks up at 81.5 that 45-day period. At this now authorizing official is reviewing the documents. This picks up right after 82. If approved, the secretarial election board will be...will convene for the first time and set the dates for the election. This election needs to happen within the next 90 days and they will then set the dates for registration deadlines, absentee ballot voting if that's the case, and then also the posting of the official voter's list.

Once the secretarial election board is formed, they will convene, meet, set the deadlines at 30 days, no earlier than 30 days I should say, the election packets notices need to be mailed out to tribal citizens because at 20 days prior to the election the official voters list must be posted. That is so citizens can bring challenges forward to the official voting list to verify if the names on the...the names of the citizens who registered to vote are eligible to vote. If the tribe chooses to do absentee ballot voting, the absentee ballots need to be mailed out 10 days prior to the date of the election. And again, any challenges that are brought forth need to be brought forth three days after the election, date of the election.

And then the authorizing official, again regional director, will cover and assess challenges and rule on the sufficiency of the election. And really this was very confusing to me when I first looked into it, but then when I started finding the official documentation that was mailed out to tribal citizens it made it much more clear and for me referring back to certain sections, 82.5 and 81.11, you'll see these notices once you go through this process.

Tribal action during this period. Select representatives for the secretarial election board. Will you have the same representatives that are serving on your reform committee serving on the election board at that time? Do you have...consider the amount of districts that you have. Will you have a representative from each district serving at that point? Continue to hold education sessions, verify that registration's gong out on time, make sure that tribal members are registering and vote. I've seen a couple elections where they just didn't meet the numbers. They didn't meet that 30 percent criteria. So in that the election failed. Submit all absentee ballots on time. And then the election board, following the date of the election, will post the unofficial results and that's when the challenges can be brought forth by the tribal citizens.

So some of the found documents, and I got again real excited when I found these. This is a letter dated 2009 addressed to tribal leaders informing them of education sessions to note the changes that have happened to the IRA, specifically noting first that there's a timeframe established within that first bullet point up there. The second includes language clarifying that an IRA tribe may amend its constitution to remove secretarial approval of future amendments. There you go. There's your official language and the official document. And that led me then to the Native American Technical Corrections Act. I wanted to find out where that's at.

Section 103: Tribal Sovereignty. Each Indian tribe shall retain inherent sovereign power to adopt governing documents under procedures other than those specified in this section. You can remove the language, you're not going to lose your sovereignty, you're not going to lose federal recognition. Here's a document from Pueblo Laguna and if anyone has a chance and is going through this process and wants to see the official documents prior to submitting anything, check out their tribal website. It was actually very helpful for me because they have their documents still loaded from their 2012 secretarial election. This letter here, again, one of their articles that they were amending was removing the secretarial approval clause from their amendment section. This will not affect the status of their current standing as an IRA tribe. The Pueblo will continue to be an IRA tribe with a non-IRA constitution. Again, there it is for you."

Robert Hershey and Andrew Martinez: The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform (Q&A)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Robert Hershey and Andrew Martinez engage participants in a lively discussion about the intricacies of secretarial elections and whether and how Native nations with Indian Reorganization Act constitutions should remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause from those governing documents.

Resource Type
Citation

Hershey, Robert. "The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Q&A session.

Martinez, Andrew. "The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Q&A session.

Andrew Martinez:

"Now I'm going to go into my questions. This Pueblo of Laguna document was the only document that actually noted anything towards cost. Allocated funds from the federal government for the tribe to go through this process. Funds are in the process of reprogramming for the secretarial election in the amount of $20,000. My question to the audience is, is this the same across the board, has this value changed since 2012? How's the money best allocated? What worked for the tribes?"

Audience member:

"Our tribe just went through that process of removing the Secretary of Interior, but we failed and they never mentioned to us any cost associated with it at all. And we did receive a letter saying that we would be okay as an IRA tribe, but there was still the fear within the community that we would lose our status and that we wouldn't be able to get grants, etc., etc."

Andrew Martinez:

"Would you mind me asking how you addressed that fear when it came up?"

Audience member:

"We held meetings, but we didn't hold enough meetings because by the time it was announced that there was going to be a secretarial election...going back to it, I've been on the committee for two years, and going back we should have held more educational meetings. I see that now."

Andrew Martinez:

"Hindsight's 20/20."

Audience member:

"Yeah, but that's what we should have done is that we should have held more meetings and did more explanation of what was going on and the benefits of it and so on and so forth. But it was just too little of time and not enough education."

Andrew Martinez:

"Did you work to only remove the approval clause from the mandate section?"

Audience member:

"That was the only amendment that we worked on, yeah."

Andrew Martinez:

"Okay. Thank you. Thank you for that. Any other responses? One other topic that I wanted to hit on is the means of communication. A lot...actually Red Lake right now has a Facebook page for their constitutional reform. There are other tribes that have Facebook pages. White Earth utilized YouTube to get information out to citizens. It's still up, you can watch it, it's actually very helpful. It helped me understand better what the process was going through and understand also the history of the tribe. It was great.

Some tribes have Twitter accounts. I guess I'm the young'in in the group right now. Twitter, I guess, is active for me so I could check Twitter and understand what's going on there, too. I also heard that White Earth used web sessions, broadcasted their meetings, understanding that you felt like you had to have or should have held more educational sessions. If your tribal members...if you have a large group of your tribal members who live off reservation, use the Internet, if they have Internet access, use it. Broadcast your meetings. I believe Justin.tv is one where you can set up a webcam, broadcast it, anyone can log in and check it out.

And if you choose to go the Facebook route, you have open discussions on there. It's up to you, the tribe, how much information you're going to put out there. If you only want to post about meeting updates and stuff like that, that's fine. You may still get some feedback, backlash to what's happening. You might get straight out opinions and sometimes some of the interactions that I've seen on the Facebook pages is pretty harsh, but it's intense and I would note that a little criticism and a little conflict is good. It breeds innovation. However, once it gets to a certain point it just starts to kill the process and really those are the individuals who you need to communicate with the most to start to quell their fears.

This last document that I have is a flow chart that I found from the Ho-Chunk Nation. Really this is how they went to break it down on there when they went through this process. They also utilized YouTube. However, they only have one video up. So moving from that on to questions, does anyone have any questions?"

Robert Hershey:

"There's a gentleman in the back there."

Audience member:

"Mr. Martinez, have you come across anything concerning the IRS [Internal Revenue Service] within doing what you're doing because some of their rules apply to the tribes too? And a lot of the times when you're doing a financial format for your people, we have to follow the federal guidelines and some of it seems like they're trying to infiltrate the government."

Andrew Martinez:

"So any documentation that I found regarding the IRS is what you're asking about? I have not. I could look into that, but I haven't found anything official."

Audience member:

"And then the other thing, like Mr. Hershey was saying is that for that reason the tribes are kind of...the funding source. When you get the funding from the federal government, when you remove yourself from that, they say that you're not going to get anymore funding. And in the health organization, there's some tribes that are under that format and other tribes are under the other format and they call it, I think, self-determination or something like that. And tribes were asking the questions, "˜If you go on that sides, do you get no more funding and if you stay on this side you still get funding.' So that was a lot of the concern. So a lot of the tribes didn't want to switch over for that reason too because that's where the money comes from to support all the programs that are for the tribes anyway. So that's why I was thinking that if you put the IRS, the funding source, the financial part of it, it has to be under all those things too. And they don't mention it and I looked at that [25 CFR] many times and I tried to make heads or tails with it, but you can't find it there. So that's why he was saying that you could find it elsewhere, too, and that's a good idea."

Andrew Martinez:

"Thank you."

Robert Hershey:

"I'm going to add something to what you said as well. Funding is obviously a major issue. These elections are not cheap. They are costly. But this is also something that the government has to think about in putting away this kind of...putting nest eggs away in anticipation of accomplishing this in order to cover the cost too. There's something that I wanted to follow up on as well and it goes back to this issue of trust. Not just a loss of funding or loss of federal status, but there's some tribal members or citizens -- we haven't had that discussion yet, the distinction between membership and citizenship, that's for another conference -- that they don't trust necessarily their tribal governments. I just want to put that out. That's a thought that comes out. So some of the people want the Secretary of the Interior to have oversight on this and I know some of you deal with that situation as well.

The other point that I wanted to bring out; there are alternatives in terms of amending constitutions as well. For example, if your constitution is restrictive as to the membership, you can always go to Congress and get a special congressional statute. Pascua Yaqui has done that. While their membership was very restrictive in their constitution, they went and got a special... I won't use an appropriation, but a congressional act designated that opened their enrollment for a period of three years. So there are also ways of getting around the specific inability to amend your constitution by seeing if you could get certain things accomplished by special acts. Any other questions? Yes, yes."

Audience member:

"One more question on that. Some of the tribes were established by executive order. And is there any other way you can get around that to be sanctioned by the Congress?"

Robert Hershey:

"I think the body of law is pretty well clear that whether you're established by treaty or by executive order, your rights and obligations and commitments are going to still be the same, they're going to be equal. I think that there's enough experiential evidence over the years and I have not seen any kind of distinction that would denigrate your rights because you're executive order. A lot of the tribes in the west...the reservations were created by executive order and they still retain their inherent sovereignty and you try to go ahead and take away their rights and it would not be accomplished that way. You've got to be on the same footing."

Audience member:

"And then the other one is, when they fund the services to the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] where we're at, it's getting less and less and less. So if they can't get you the other way, they'll take the money away from you. So you don't have the services available for what you have too."

Robert Hershey:

"We call that termination by non-appropriation."

Audience member:

"Right. That's where we're at right now."

Robert Hershey:

"And especially with the sequester too. I know that tribes have been hit really hard with sequestration of funds as well."

Audience member:

"Right. My president, that's what he was asking BIA and they tell them, "˜We want original funding because if you can send billions of dollars across the ocean to these other people that you don't know and you know us, how come you can't give it to us?'"

Robert Hershey:

"This also resonates the larger question as to whether or not you feel economically empowered to go ahead and resist. And that's a consequence of colonization over the years as to whether or not you think you have the power to say no based upon economics or the power to do things on your own by virtue of your economic conditions."

Audience member:

"Thank you."

Audience member:

"I had a question about the secretarial approval that's in those constitutions that exists now. Is there...let me back up. I'm a management product of the education system. So my whole focus has always been on structures. Well, with my tribe it seems like the structures that are in place aren't meeting the needs of the people. There's a lot of resignation with tribal members about our government, our leaders. There's a lot of fear about repercussions if you're too vocal in the community and our court systems are controlled by our tribal leaders. So I think there's a lot of people that want to see constitutional reform, but there's fear about what to do with that.

So my question is, some alternatives for grassroots people who can have a voice about those constitutional amendments but...and I was told because, I don't want to make it sound like it's just no other way, but if the people can come together and our leadership would see that this is what the people want, possibly that they would buy into it and they would jump onboard. Hopefully that's the way it'll go, but I just want to make sure that if it doesn't, that the people have a way to deal with the situation so that they can have more voice in what's going on with our tribe. And I guess that's my concern so...

This is the question I guess. Is it possible, these petitions...because there's been a lot of petitions that circulate about different things in the tribe and one of the things is a lot of times they'll petition for money. So we have all the people vote on petitions to come from a certain funding. Well, the way I look at that is, if we get the number of people to sign the petition then legally the council should honor that. That's my interpretation, but I don't know because they don't. So I don't understand enough about legally the tribal members other than voting but we're an IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution and it doesn't reflect who we are as a people and we're kind of stuck with it.

So if the people would petition the Secretary of Interior on some constitutional changes, is that going to be honored or are we...is there a way that the grassroots people can have a voice in our constitution and have those reforms be...to have some outlet? I guess is what I'm looking at, because like I'm telling you, there's a lot of frustration, there's just resignation, "˜Why do anything?' The people, the way that our election process works is families aren't representative, clans aren't representative, it's just whomever gets on the council is there, sometimes you don't have a family member there to represent you. So that's why I'm just saying that there's a lot of frustration. Maybe you have some suggestions on people like me that want to see some reform."

Robert Hershey:

"I hear your frustration. I would venture to say that in your constitution there exists a provision for initiative. Is there a provision for initiative in your constitution? There might be a provision for referendum and the distinction between initiative and referendum is that a referendum is usually decided by the tribal council and it's submitted to the members, the citizens, for a vote. The citizen-initiated way to create a referendum is by what's called an initiative.

So I would suggest two things. Number one, use that procedure in your constitution or those of you that have an initiative procedure in your constitution. Two, go around and get the signatures of enough people to comply with those requirements for initiative, which would then force the tribal council to have a vote on whatever particular thing you want. You're still going to have to go through your own tribe in this regard. The amendment of a constitution that's already been approved by the Secretary of the Interior is going to require a secretarial election so you could perhaps...and again, it's questions of authority within your own community and those people that have...are clothed in those authorities and there's power situations and power dynamics.

So the other option is to try and create a consultative mechanism. We hear about tribal consultation and I mentioned something to you yesterday in terms of how tribes consult with the federal governments or the state governments and the federal agencies, I've tasked one of my students, Edward, this semester because the idea that the tribal legislative bodies are not listening to people -- grassroots people -- to create some sort of a consultation mechanism that may or may not already be in place from tribal peoples to their tribal councils and try to get something like that passed. If...regarding an initiative, the tribal council is bound to honor and hold an election on a tribal initiative if there are enough signatures passed and if they don't do that, that's something where you can take the tribe to court, it doesn't involve sovereign immunity issues, that you could go ahead and try to force the council to go ahead and comply with the terms of the initiative.

So, either you get an initiative to deal with a large issue of constitutional reformation or you create an initiative to create an ordinance, a law, a statute that talks about intra-tribal consultation. So there are mechanisms in that regard.

Audience member:

"I was just wondering, let's say you failed at it, but for reasons other than participation or lack of participation. Is there a time limit or a waiting period before you can try again with the feds?"

Andrew Martinez:

"Not that I've seen. I haven't seen assigned period. It just...it takes a lot of work to get it initiated once again, get everything going."

Robert Hershey:

"That's the old thing, you know the definition of...no, I'm not going to go there. But I would give it sufficient time to go ahead and analyze what happened and figure out as the woman over there said in terms of more outreach, more education because of the fears and mistrust. Mr. Chairman? That's you, yeah. A comment, whatever."

Thomas Beauty:

"Yeah, just a comment. Removing the secretarial approval, I was thinking why wouldn't they approve? If they went through the whole process and they didn't approve it, but they approved somebody else's, what do you think their thinking is in regards to that? Are they just doing it because they want to still keep control or are they doing it because...what reason do you think? I'm not quite sure what..."

Robert Hershey:

"I think that the tribe itself votes to remove the Secretary of the Interior approval language, then the Secretary of the Interior must go ahead and remove that language. I don't think they have discretion to go ahead and say to one tribe that, "˜Yeah, we'll remove it. We agree with you that you can go ahead and remove it from your constitution,' and then not remove it from another tribe's constitution."

Thomas Beauty:

[Inaudible]

Robert Hershey:

"I think the denial was that their members voted against it."

Thomas Beauty:

[Inaudible]

Robert Hershey:

"They worked it, presented, they had an actual secretarial election, but that their membership voted against it. I guess there was fear and mistrust."

Terry Janis:

"In other situations we saw on the earlier panel that I was in, the woman [Jennifer Porter], her tribe reorganized and restructured, the BIA refused to approve that because their constitution still required constitutional approval or BIA approval, secretarial approval in order to amend their constitution and so they did a second secretarial election to remove the requirement for secretarial approval and then they did it on their own. But in that removal of secretarial approval, the BIA approved that.

So if you think about what that says about the Bureau of Indian Affairs, whenever you give them authority to approve or disapprove your decisions, they have two considerations I think. One is they have a trust obligation to give their best thought to it. They're not just going to agree with you just because they agree with you, but their history of a trust responsibility is to overrule you if they think you're doing the wrong thing. So that's a real sort of issue. You're giving them authority to disagree with you. The second issue is there is a long history of paternalism with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there just is. And as any kind of large bureaucracy, you've got people in there that are old, old, 1950s Termination-era guys with the white hair and kind of like that guy."

Robert Hershey:

"No, no, no. Wait a second, they have white hair, I have moonstruck hair. That's right."

Terry Janis:

"But for that agency to change, people are going to have to die out. You know how bureaucracies are, right? And remember who they are. They come from assimilation, termination, that's why they were set up. It's going to take them a long time to change. And so as long as you continue to give them, in your constitution, secretarial approval authority, those are the dynamics that you're going to have to deal with and it's a crap shoot every time."

Thomas Beauty:

"Well, thank you for that clarification. Not only dealing with these entities of the government, they're always looking at what's their liability, what's their liability and that to me tells me that they don't want to make a move. They'll take forever to do anything because they're still thinking about it. What can happen down the road if we do this? Because they blanket all the tribes together and if they do one thing for one tribe and then, "˜Oh, no, it's a big fire!' So they take forever and I just wanted to put that comment out there. I know we probably all know that, but just dealing with them in my little short term, that's what I understand from them."

Robert Hershey: Dispelling Stereotypes about the Federal Government's Role in Native Nation Constitutional Reform

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Robert Hershey, Professor of Law and American Indian Studies at The University of Arizona, dispels some longstanding stereotypes about what the federal government can and will do should a Native nation decide to amend its constitution to remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause or else make their foundational governing document more culturally appropriate in ways that perhaps do not conform to federal bureaucrats' attitudes about how that Native nation should govern itself. He also offers a broad definition of constitutions that encompasses things like Indigenous ceremonies, songs, the knowledge of elders, etc.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Hershey, Robert. "Dispelling Stereotypes about the Federal Government's Role in Native Nation Constitutional Reform." Tribal Constitutions Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Presentation.

Robert Hershey:

“Good afternoon everyone and thanks for staying awake after that fabulous meal. I usually have my students interact with me, but Terry [Janis] said something about being older and I want to just get this out of the way. May I ask you what color your hair is?”

Audience member:

“It’s calico.”

Robert Hershey:

“Okay. I wasn’t anticipating that. I like that one. There was a young man over there, I’m looking for people with the same hair color. Calico, I’d never heard that. Robert, what color is your hair?”

Audience member:

[Inaudible]

Robert Hershey:

“All right. My hair color is moonstruck, just so you know that. It’s not silver, it’s not gray, it’s not old. You’re getting a little moonstruck yourself. So let’s talk about that.

The other thing I want to talk about is gravity because I always like to remember, someone was talking about starting the beginning of the day with a prayer. I always like to remember that if it wasn’t for gravity, I would float away and oftentimes I do float away. So I’m pretty attuned to the idea that I like gravity. If you all want to stand up and jump and wake yourself up and feel gravity, you can. No takers?

The other thing that I want to tell you about is that in addition, I’m going to introduce myself a little bit, but I’m a judge for the past 25 years for the Tohono O’odham Nation, and it’s about questions. So I’ll ask you right now, do you have any questions? Now, the reason I’m asking you now is to give you time to think because you know that you’re going to have questions, but you usually take some time to think about your questions. You’re not like us, we stick our hands right up. ‘Us’ meaning me, this face. We take our time to answer, to ask questions.

When I was a judge, there was a removal proceeding of a council member and I’m up there, and it’s almost time for lunch and I said, ‘Are there any questions?’ And being dutifully trained and schooled by many of you individuals in many nations that I’ve worked with, I’m told to wait because people will have questions and so I wait and I wait. I must have waited over five minutes for questions and I said, ‘Okay, we’ll break for lunch and when we come back, we’ll finish this up.’ So I step off the bench and come down and the chairwoman of the legislative council says to me, ‘You didn’t wait long enough.’ So, I know that if you think that I’m going to ask you, ‘are there any questions?’ and you see a pause there, you’ll know ahead of time why I’m pausing.

I was raised in Hollywood, California. I was skateboarding down the Avenue of the Stars before they even laid Avenue of the Stars. I had hair down to here when I went to law school. My crazy aunt said my hair was my antenna to the cosmos and so I kind of thought that description was pretty good. And ultimately I became, went to law school and then I became a legal aid attorney for Dinébe’iiná NáhiiÅ‚na be Agha’diit’ahii (DNA People’s Legal Services). Close? Good. Joe? All right, I did it. It took me three weeks to pronounce it where I worked back in those days.

So when I became a legal aid attorney on the Navajo Reservation, John, this’ll be referencing the trickster idea and this is how Native people have played tricks on me my entire legal career. When I was asked, and I lived way back in a canyon about a mile and a half off the road and my landlady at that time -- who was in her 70s, still riding horses, chopping wood, herding goats -- she said, ‘Will you do me a favor? Will you please take my goats from my house to your house?’ And I figured a mile and a half; a young boy from Hollywood, raised with Charleston Heston, Peter O’Toole, cowboys and Indians movies, thinking that I could do this. And as soon as I started taking the goats, they took off up in the hills and they just went up. And the lead goat was named Skunk and he had this big bell on him that clanked and every time he moved away from me it clanked and I got so pissed off at this goat. And finally I came back after an hour and a half. I said, ‘I’m so sorry. I am so very sorry. I lost your goats.’ And all she did was laugh hysterically, bent over double, laughing and laughing and laughing. She says, ‘Don’t worry. They know where to go.’ And I walked back to where I lived and they were in the pen next to my house. And ever since then I’ve had to have a sense of humor about all the ecological catastrophes that are befalling us, about all the work.

Let me tell you something: in 1969, ‘70, I started this in ‘72, working with Native peoples, the strides that you have made, the things that you have accomplished in that time, the youth, all the programs have been monumental. So you should all know that regardless of the challenges, you are striving in such a positive direction and your attendance here at this [seminar] is a testament to that fortitude and stability that you’ve carried forward for over 500 years. And I appreciate it. I want you to know how honored I am to have had an entire legal career of over 40 years working with Native people. So I thank you too for allowing me this time to be with you.

The ethics of what we do today, the integrity that you mentioned -- humor, respect, integrity -- the ethics of what you do today become the oral tradition 100 years from now. We do not go ahead and live in the past. It’s dynamic. So what we are doing today is what will be thought about 100 years, 200 years from now, because you know you’re still going to be working on this -- as we all are -- 200 years from now. I don’t plan on going anywhere so I hope you’re not. So I want us to remember about that. The ethics of today become the oral history of tomorrow. You’re also saddled with the idea of imagery and American Indian policy because Native peoples are thought to be historical. Non-Native peoples can’t quite grasp the idea there are living dynamic societies in existence today, wrestling with their own problems after all these years of subjugation, if you will.

You mentioned something about trust and trust in constitutional reformation is absolute key because I’ve worked with tribes where the committees that the tribal governments have established thought of themselves as the anti-government, if you will. That they thought of themselves as the shadow government because they didn’t trust their tribal councils. So they were creating their own agendas in and of themselves. That’s why this dynamic partnership between the leadership and this independent body is absolutely crucial and it’s consistent and constant.

There are tribes that have been working since 1975, one of your neighboring Apache tribes, since 1975 -- Pascua Yaqui has been working since 1990 -- to amend their constitutions. I worked two years with Pascua Yaqui. It is a difficult process. Don’t, you may get frustrated; it is still an amazingly worthwhile thing to do. The gentleman from Canada was talking about, ‘But what about housing, why don’t we work on that?’ And as I said, O’odham in their districts, they have special powers reserved to the districts. Same thing with Joan’s [Timeche] in Hopi, and many of your communities, have already worked these things out. You have historical precedence upon which to build. They all become the framework for constitutional revision.

The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] -- as much of a tiger as you see the BIA -- I think it’s an administrative mindset in the BIA because the law seems to be more progressive than how the BIA is effectuating the law, because you have provisions in 2000, the reformation to contracts, not needing as much oversight, even in land leasing, if you will. Only those contracts that encumber land for more than seven years require BIA approval in leasing. There are special congressional statutes giving tribes the authority to go ahead and enact leases for 25 years, up to 25 years without secretarial approval.

But here’s the key, here’s the kicker I think of what you wanted me to talk about and Andrew’s [Martinez] going to talk later and he’s going to show you, in big bold type, of the Native American Technical Corrections Act where the removal of the clause that requires secretarial approval does not mean you will lose your status as a federally recognized tribe. I’ll say that once again. You remove the language, taking out from your constitutions the requirement of secretarial approval of what you do, does not mean you lose your status as either an IRA tribe or a federally recognized tribe. You can do that. And we had testimony from the folks at Kootenai today to that affect. Laguna is another community that has done that. You see this happening. Do not let them threaten you with the loss of federal status. Forget about it. Give yourself permission to be whatever you want to be.

One of the other things that I’d like to tell you about is that because of the trust responsibility, and we’re all familiar with the trust responsibility -- I’m not going to go ahead and give you law professor’s lecture on the origins of the trust responsibility other than to say that it’s almost 200 years old in the federal case law. But because tribes have been so whetted to this notion that if they do something that does not comport with the values of this dominant society that they’re going to lose some sort of federal support for what they do. You have to disabuse yourself, you have to stop thinking in that way because there are international precedents and Miriam [Jorgensen] brought this up, but I wanted to reiterate this and harp on this.

The American Declaration, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the International Labor Organization Convention 169, all are emerging and very, very, very strong and compelling documents that you should be thinking and you should learn about that and you have to ask your attorneys to tell you about that. If your attorneys don’t understand that, you send them to us, you send them to the University of Arizona for a crash course in international law precedents, and you start thinking in terms of the rights contained in those documents as being embedded in your constitutions. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, International Labor Organization 169, the American Declaration, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, these should all be part of your signposts, your guides as well; very, very critical. This gives you a whole other avenue. The United States has signed onto the United Nations Declaration. This gives you a whole other strengthening body of instruments to help you craft what you’re trying to accomplish.

Two other small points, not so small -- what I call mapping intergenerational memories. Every time that you go to your community in this process, community engagement, you are also asking for bits of history, you’re asking your elders to contribute to a body of knowledge, you are asking them to give forth their intergenerational memories and those intergenerational memories are not just for one specific purpose, not just for the purpose of revising a constitution, not just for the purpose of what was the home site assignment. They are the purpose for everything that you do. So that anything you undertake has this body, this repository of memory, whether it’s map-making your ancestral territory, whether it’s in the case of litigation for aboriginal title, you’re marking place names...I understand there’s issues on revealing sacred knowledge. There’s issues on dealing when it is appropriate to reveal, to talk about these things. That’s up to each community, each distinct individual community, to find a mechanism to go ahead and preserve and identify these intergenerational memories that help you for your entire broad spectrum of what you want to accomplish because then, in today’s ethics, you’re carrying forward past ethics and into the future.

The last thing, and it kind of dovetails on this, is what I call the 'reality of river thought' and the reality of river thought came to me when I saw the movie 'Apocalypse Now' for about the 18th time. You get in a boat in Saigon and you’re in this very, very busy city and as you go down the river further and further and further, further down the river, the only thing that matters to you is what’s right in front of the bow, what’s right in front at that moment. We’ve had speakers talk about never forgetting about where you came from. So in the process of constitutional revision, always remember that you started out in a large society and that is what’s carrying you forward. So when you’re looking over the bow, remember, there’s a whole past bit of information. It’s much more grander in scope. Don’t get trapped into this idea that the attorneys are basically saying, ‘Everything has to be in the four corners.’ You have dances, you have songs, you have paintings. These are all constitutions. The trick is how you craft them in a way that substantiates and flavors -- and as John was talking about -- this magnificent opportunity to engage your community, to determine where you’re going to be next and you’re doing it with respect, integrity, neutrality, a few punches here and there, can’t be avoided. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you have to be bound by the forms that you were given to. Create your own. Create your own.

Now, Andrew’s going to move us into this idea that, so right now, when you have these certain forms of constitutions, how do you go about, what is the legal mechanism how you go about then reforming under the processes that have already been dictated to you and how do you start shaking those things off?”

Jennifer Porter: Cultural Match Through Constitutional Reform at Kootenai

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative interview with NNI's Ian Record, Vice-Chairwoman Jennifer Porter of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho explains what prompted her nation to enact several amendments to its constitution in the mid-1990s, and how its ability to govern effectively has been greatly enhanced by its decision to its cultural roots when it comes to how it elects its leaders.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Porter, Jennifer. "Cultural Match Through Constitutional Reform at Kootenai." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Insitute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host Ian Record. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us Jennifer Porter. Jennifer Porter is the former Chairwoman and now Vice Chairwoman of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. And we’re here today to talk about the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s constitution and some of the recent efforts they were engaged in to amend their constitution and how it’s working, etc. I guess we’ll just first I guess have you start off by just telling us a little bit more about yourself.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Okay. Good morning. My name is Jennifer Porter, Vice Chairwoman of the Kootenai Tribe. I’ve been on council for the past 17 years, I believe, so this would be my fourth term as a council member. I don’t know what else you want besides that. I could go in depth [on] family...”

Ian Record:

“Yeah, sure. Why not.”

Jennifer Porter:

“...I’m a mother to three children ages, 20, 14 and 12, recently a grandma. That was a big part of me stepping down from chair so I could have more time to just enjoy my life now.”

Ian Record:

“That’s good. You’ve got to have balance, right?”

Jennifer Porter:

“Oh, yes, and I’m loving it.”

Ian Record:

“And it’s hard to achieve that as an elected leader I know.”

Jennifer Porter:

“It is, yes.”

Ian Record:

“So we’re here to talk about your tribe’s constitution and you’re here in Tucson this week to serve as one of our presenters for our Tribal Constitution seminar. And one of the reasons that we focused on your tribe and on you in particular is because back in the mid-1990s, your tribe engaged in a referendum vote that ended up approving a set of amendments. And from what you were telling me yesterday there’s quite a back story to how all this came to be. And I guess we can start...if you could start just talking about where the tribe was in the mid-1990s, what sort of constitution it was working with, and sort of what prompted the tribe to go down the reform road.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Sure. It was pre-my term as a council, but I was of the age to understand, out of college. I worked in the accounting department and closely related to the council so I got to see what was going on and hear, read the minutes and such. And at that time and for a number of years prior to that, our constitution, it stated that it was a five-member council and one of those members was the hereditary chief and he had a seat on council. So every three years an election came, they elected four different council members, but the chief always had the residing seat on council. And that stemmed problems.

In our community, we are made up of three main families and three -- odd number -- there’s always one ousted. So every election they would elect two of those families to the council whoever the chief at that time was getting along with. And basically it came to where it was the chief and the chair that they would either be with each other or against each other and every time there was a discrepancy they would oust whoever the chair was or oust whoever the councilman that was going against whatever it was.

So at the time, my mother was the current chair and she said there was so much uproar all the time about decisions being made that whenever something was...a resolution was passed, an ordinance was made, she was just waiting for a petition from the tribal members. There were times where she went off to meetings and she would come back and she would be petitioned off the council and they would have to go through the whole system of putting her back on and it was just like that. It was just always...you just never knew what was going on at the time and it kind of...it stemmed from that where she just got tired of it. If they wanted her on council, if they wanted these four people on council for the three years then they needed to come up with some kind of agreement.

So what she had said, and I liked in yesterday’s...some of the, I forgot who that was talking, but he said that we need to go back into our old ways, our cultural ways, our customary ways of how we got together, how we determined where and how we’re going to move forward. Well, she went back to that and she went back to the elders and what she was told is that we would come together as families, the family heads would come together, the households, they would have council. And that’s what led her to her decision and she called all of the major...the three major families, the households, the people that she in the past had sat on council with. She called those people to the table. She also called some of the elders to the table that she knew that people listened to that made the difference, had certain wisdom amongst the community. She was able to gather them all at the same table. They talked and they came to an agreement. Some of them were for it, some of them were against it, but when they really thought about it, having districts...families having three different districts, then it was a win-win for everybody because no matter who was getting along, who wasn’t getting along, as a family you would always have two representatives on the seat of the council.”

Ian Record:

“So basically the solution was, ‘We’re going to do away with this system where...’ How did it work under the prior system where you had these five council members, one of which was a standing position with the hereditary chief, right? And that person sort of had a different status than the other four? Were the other four voted on at large by the entire community?”

Jennifer Porter:

“By the community, yes.”

Ian Record:

“So you could have a family who would not have any representation at all...”

Jennifer Porter:

“Yes, yes.”

Ian Record:

“...on the council. And so you moved to this system which makes more cultural sense and also ensures that virtually everybody in the community because they’re going to be from one of these three main families in some respect would have a voice in the decision making process. Was that basically the premise?”

Jennifer Porter:

“Yes, it was.”

Ian Record:

“So then in August of 1995, the tribe goes forward with these four amendments and this is to amend the 1947 constitution. I’m curious, what is your knowledge of that 1947 constitution? I believe that’s the first written constitution of the tribe.”

Jennifer Porter:

“That was the first written [constitution] of the tribe, correct.”

Ian Record:

“Do you have...do you know much about how that original constitution came to be and who sort of authored it and anything like that?”

Jennifer Porter:

“No. I was looking at the signatures of that and those were the people of the community, the past leaders, just some... the historians, yeah. And it’s interesting how it was written and as the chief had always a standing place on the council.”

Ian Record:

“So in August of 1995, as I mentioned, these four amendments are put up to vote and I’ll just roll through them very quickly. The first one deals with the issue of blood quantum and I would assume making a change to at least one-quarter...”

Jennifer Porter:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“...degree blood quantum in descendancy from someone on a base roll. Amendment D basically just is a name change. You’re changing the name from Kootenai Tribe of Indians to Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. Those turned out to be not so controversial, which you would...it’s interesting that the blood quantum one doesn’t turn out to be controversial because...”

Jennifer Porter:

“Right.”

Ian Record:

“...folks will understand why here in a second, that the second amendment deals with exactly what you said, this change to this family-based system of representation on the council, per the three main families. And then the third amendment deals...is a related one that deals with changing the quorum requirements in accordance with how this new council was going to be constituted.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“So you guys hold a vote, you pass all four amendments, you send them to the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] per your constitution, which says that the Secretary of Interior must approve of amendments to your constitution, which is typical language of tribal constitutions from that era. Then tell me what happens next.”

Jennifer Porter:

“So the first amendment was approved, the last amendment was approved, and just like you said they didn’t approve the districts and the idea of breaking the council up into the district families. So what does our council do? They...what we were told, the reason for that, I did find that out was basically because our tribe was very small at the time, it was maybe between 100 and 120 members, that BIA felt that it wasn’t...they were adhering to the U.S. vote of one vote, one person and since we were a small tribe they thought that not everybody in the tribe would have that vote if we broke it up. But we had the argument where each person would be represented though. They have the vote to their member, their family member being on the council. So I see that our council was very bold at that time, they were going in the direction of self-determination, exercising their self-governance. So they brought the 70 percent of the general membership, which I know there was way more than 70 percent at that time, came together because they wanted this to pass. They liked this whole concept and the whole idea. They came together and they voted to do away with the BIA approval. It happened, we sent that in and I believe that happened in ‘95 or ‘96 that BIA approved that. So less than a year later we instilled our own...the new amendment, too.”

Ian Record:

“So it’s been in place for close to 20 years now and I’m curious, you’ve been in a position of leadership within your tribe for virtually all of that time and you have a window into how divisive the previous system was. Can you compare how those two approaches to how the Kootenai citizens are represented in the decision-making process of the government and how those two have differed, how they compare and contrast?”

Jennifer Porter:

“Well, I was very blessed to be in the newer version of the constitution. I’d like to say I’ve never been petitioned off the council. I’ve never seen a petition since I started. Unfortunately, it was a loss of one of my family members is how I walked into our council. It was actually the first term of this new...the new constitution and he had passed away. So my family voted me into his...so I fulfilled the rest of his term, which was the three years. Since then it’s...I can only say good things about it. There have been no more petitions. Each member, if you go back home and you ask them, they all know who’s sitting on their family on the council. If they have an issue, the way the council works now is we ask them, ‘Have you talked to your family representative first?’ If they want something brought to the table, they have to go to their family representative. So it’s kind of like a two-point process. They can’t just come into a council meeting anymore. They have to have their family’s approval, they discuss it, and then it comes to the council. So as long as we know where they’re coming from, what kind of direction or what questions they’re asking.”

Ian Record:

“So from what you’re saying, I gather your governance system has become a lot more stable.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“Because the leadership is...there’s continuity there and there’s not as much in-fighting or perhaps any in-fighting of note. And then there’s also an ability for people to get their needs addressed where it doesn’t consume the entire council’s attention. So I would imagine that frees you up to really focus...sort of be more forward looking and strategic in figuring out, ‘Okay, what direction do we want to head and what do I need to understand and learn as a council member or as a chair or vice chair in order to get us there,’ versus being distracted by constituent concerns that are better addressed at the family level. Is that accurate?”

Jennifer Porter:

“That is accurate. It seems like every family has their interest, like one family has a cultural interest, another is education, another is economic development so it kind of made it to where each family can invest more time with that, but also bringing it to the table and able to work together. We don’t have to deal with the, ‘Someone doesn’t like someone' or 'They did this to me years ago.’ Yeah, it’s just not dealt with anymore as on...they have to deal with that within their own district.”

Ian Record:

“So have you seen a shift in how the average citizen regards the government as a whole since this change was made? I would imagine with that back under the previous system if there’s a lot of infighting, if there’s a lot of petitioning to say, ‘Oh, let’s throw that bum out. He doesn’t agree with me,’ or whatever, that tends to feed among the people a very low regard for government and a very low regard for leadership in whoever’s holding that position. Have you seen a change in terms of how the people tend to view their government? Is there more pride in the system and saying, ‘Hey, we can do things. We can make decisions. We can implement those decisions. We can really move forward.’”

Jennifer Porter:

“There’s a tremendous change. There is that pride there. There is that respect that wasn’t seen there before. It took them a few years to actually get the concept of, ‘Hey, I can bring something to the council. All I have to do is go talk to my family rep,’ instead of feeling like nothing can be done until we get a family member in there. So now they do have that voice, they can make a difference. And right now it’s broken down to council each has their different interest in the area and it’s kind of like if they don’t feel comfortable going to this council talking to education they’ll talk to their family member and then that family member will go talk to that council. So it’s kind of...it works so much better. It’s more...even though it’s more family based, it works better for the community overall.”

Ian Record:

“So are there other areas of the constitution that the tribe perhaps is having a conversation about changing or strengthening or anything like that? Is there more attention being paid now to figuring out, ‘Okay, yeah, things are working well. Are there ways we can make it work better,’ or are things just sort of chugging along.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Things are working well as it is and I think it’s more if it’s working just let it be.”

Ian Record:

“Well, that’s great. I wish I could say this is a typical story coming out of Indian Country but it’s...I think what Kootenai has done with you would think on its face one simple change, but it sounds like the trickle down effect throughout the government has been very constructive across the board. I think it offers a promising success story and a promising blueprint for other nations to look at to say, ‘If we just look to our own traditions, we just look to our own values and how we did things before and try to bring that forward into the 21st century we can achieve our own goals, we can govern well, we can make decisions in a unified fashion.’”

Jennifer Porter:

“And it was a blend. I like the way it was presented yesterday about going back to your traditions and your culture and the way I seen it when he was talking is it’s a blend of the culture and today’s world, bringing those together and being able to make it work.”

Ian Record:

“Well, Jennifer, really appreciate you taking some time to sit down with us. I know it was a little bit short notice, but I thank you for agreeing to share your story with us. We’re always eager to learn about new stories of constitutional success and constitutional enhancement and self-determination in action.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Well, thank you. It was a determination of...I think you guys have been asking me for like four or five years to come and I finally had the time.”

Ian Record:

“Well, persistence pays off, right?”

Jennifer Porter:

“It does.”

Ian Record:

“Well, again, thank you and hopefully others will learn from Kootenai’s story.”

Jennifer Porter:

“Thank you."

Jennifer Porter: The Kootenai Tribe: Strengthening the People's Voice in Government Through Constitutional Change

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Jennifer Porter, former chairwoman and current vice-chairwoman of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, discusses how her nation moved to amend it constitution to change its basis of political representation, how the U.S. Secretary of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) tried to block the move, and how and why her nation decided to remove the U.S government from the constitutional reform equation in order to make its governance system more culturally appropriate -- and effective.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Porter, Jennifer. "The Kootenai Tribe: Strengthening the People's Voice in Government Through Constitutional Change." Tribal Constitutions Seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Presentation.

Herminia Frias:

"Okay, so we're right before lunch and we have two great speakers lined up to talk about the issue and the challenges of citizen engagement. And I'm sure many of you have many stories to talk about when it comes to citizen engagement. How do you host a meeting and actually have people come and show up or have people actually come and participate? So we have two wonderful speakers this morning and the first speaker is going to be Jennifer Porter and she's the Vice Chairwoman for the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and she'll be speaking first. And then she'll be followed by Terry Janis, who is the Project Manager...who was the project manager for the White Earth Constitution Reform Initiative. So if we'd...first we'll welcome Ms. Porter."

Jennifer Porter:

"So my name is Jennifer Porter. I don't know what's worse, going before lunch or going after lunch because everybody seems to be thinking when are we going to eat this afternoon, and after lunch you're all tired and want to go to sleep. So I'll try to make this brief, but touch on the aspects of it.

There were a few questions yesterday that were asked and it was a gentleman over here and he kept wanting to know, ‘Well, how do we do it?' He wanted to know about like...I felt like he was asking a question, ‘How has it been done in the past? Like who actually did this? Who reformed their constitution? And I just...you kept hearing people say, ‘Well, tomorrow we'll have that story, tomorrow.' Well, tomorrow's here and I'm one of those stories.

I'm a former chairwoman. I've been on the council for the past 17 years. Recently this past October, I stepped down to the [vice-chairman's position] just to have more family time and to enjoy my life. After eight years, I think it was about time. I have recently become a grandmother so I thought, you know, it's time to let the youth...it's weird to say that, but I just...I've hit that point where I can say the youth now are coming up and taking these positions.

So our story, like I said, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, we're in northern Idaho. It's about a half-hour south of the Canadian border. It started in the mid 1990s. Prior to that our constitution, it stated in there a five-member council with our hereditary chief at the time having a sitting position on the council. So every time they had a new council come in and seated, it was always that same chief. He never had to vie for that position. He was always had that position and it seemed to be creating problems all the time. You have this one position and in our community it's made up of three main families. So you see three's the odd number. Whoever's getting along at the time, they'll vote these two families in. ‘We don't like this family, so we're going to keep them off.' And it did that for so many years and you see how every...

At the time, my mother was the chairwoman and she sat on for maybe about 10 years at that time and she said there were times where she would come home and she didn't know if she had a job or not. There was petitions; she would go off to a meeting, she'd come home and there'd be a petition to have her taken off the council. So she would kindly clear her office, fight the council, come back on and they would have her on again. And we hear about that in Indian Country all the time, and it kind of got to where they weren't moving forward. They were always just doing this little 'jumble effect' with council, who's going to be chairperson this week, who's going to be chairperson next month, that kind of thing, and we hear a lot about that in Indian Country still today.

Well, she was tired of it and she was tired of petitions and just like one of the gentlemen was stating yesterday, she kind of...she went back and she goes, ‘Well, how did we...how did we work as a so-called government before constitution, before this was put upon us? How did our elders do it? How did our community work?' She talked to the elders at that time and being with the three main families, it worked. They didn't need voting, they didn't need a constitution, they didn't need a paper telling them how to work their community and how to move forward. So what she did is she got those three main families together. And it was hard. And I could imagine all the fights back then, but all the people that were on council at that time, all the elders that were within those families at that time, all the people that would like...write those petitions and take them around and getting them signed. She got them all together at that time and she said, ‘We need to stop. We're losing our young people. We're losing our old people. In order for us to move forward and to grow as a tribe, we need to stop this.' She can't do her job, nobody can do their jobs. So they came to that agreement.

They all sat down and they came up with something. She said, ‘We need some kind of system that all three families will be represented, that nobody will ever feel left out again. We can all get along at the table.' So what they decided was they were going to rewrite their constitution and all three families were always going to have a seat at the table. They rewrote it to where they took off the chief as the standing position. Each district would be allowed to vote in -- from their families -- two positions on the council.

So mid...it was about 1995 they proposed four amendments to BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs]. Amendment One had to do with blood quantum and changing enrollment wording with our tribe. Amendment Two was a proposal of changing the district factors into the three main families. The third amendment was the quorum issue, changing the seating from the three [for] a tribal quorum to the four. And the last issue was the naming of the tribe because we didn't want to be known as the Kootenai Tribe of Indians anymore, we wanted to known as the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. So BIA was okay with the first amendment, they passed that no problems. They were okay with the fourth amendment. We have the right to change our name. But they weren't okay with us changing our structure.

They said we couldn't change it from the five people to the six people. So I asked yesterday, ‘Why weren't they okay with it?' And the answer I got was because of the size of our tribe -- which we are a very small tribe -- at that time, we were a little over...maybe between 110 to 120 and BIA said they were opposed to it because they more or less went towards the U.S. vote, 'one person, one vote,' and they felt going to the three districts or the three different families not every person would be represented as a vote. But we argued with that because we said the way it worked in our past was as long as they were within one of those districts, which made up our whole tribe, they would get a vote.

So it didn't take my tribe long, and I always say they were a bold council back then, and they weren't going to let BIA tell [us] what to do, so they took it upon themselves, they got all the tribal membership, they got them all onboard saying, ‘This is going to work. This is how it's going to work but we need you guys to jump onboard with us. We need you guys to support us. So what we're going to do is we are going to vote that BIA doesn't have a say on how we govern ourselves anymore.' So all they needed was a 70 percent voting of the membership. They got more than that. I think they got about 90 percent of our membership to say, ‘This is right. This is how we're going to do it.' They sent that to BIA, BIA approved that. It's just funny how they had no question to that. They approved it. They couldn't tell the tribe anymore how to run our constitution or how to do our government.

So once that was approved, the tribe took it upon themselves to change the constitution. They didn't need those powers over them and we changed it. So running today, we are the three family districts. Everybody votes for two members and I believe it's been 18, 19 years since that [amendment] and it works today, still today. I was just asked this morning, how is it run? I've never seen any better form of government. I can say maybe I haven't experienced what it was before, but I've only experienced this and I've never been through a petition. It's always worked. I have...out of all of our tribal members -- you ask any of them -- they feel like they do have a word in the community. They can go to a family, whoever their district representative, their family representative is and ask for something to go to the council.

And the way our council works is we do come together, but if a family or community member is asking for something or wants to know what's going on, the first thing we ask them is, ‘Have you talked to your district representatives?' Because with us, it's their responsibility to take care of their family first before they come to the table. We don't deal with the ones who, if they're from Family A, jump over to Family C and want us to push and fight. We've gone away from that. If they do make friends with Family B or C, we said, ‘No, you still have to go through your Family A. We won't even address that issue until we hear from your family and how they deal with that.'

I know I was asked to speak a little about how the tribe decided to not allow BIA to determine where the tribe was going and I found it interesting yesterday that there are so many tribes that are still under that notion that they've still got to ask BIA for everything. They've got to have BIA approval. And I guess maybe it's the whole way of thinking, but today with self-governance and under self-determination, it's the tribe's right to not do that anymore. And we just were one of those tribes who moved forward and got it done and it's working great today.

Joan [Timeche] finally got me down here to speak about my tribe. She's been after me for a number of years since I shared that story, because at the time she said she'd never heard of that concept, she's never heard of a tribe dividing like that and making it work." 

Vanya Hogen: Redefining Citizenship Criteria Through Constitutional Reform and Other Means

Producer
William Mitchell College of Law in conjunction with the Bush Foundation
Year

Lawyer and tribal judge Vanya Hogen (Oglala Sioux) discusses the difficulties inherent in amending Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) constitutions to redefine tribal citizenship criteria, and shares the story of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community as an example of one Native nation with an IRA government who was able to change its criteria through another approach: adoption.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Bush Foundation.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Hogen, Vanya. "Redefining Citizenship Criteria Through Constitutional Reform and Other Means." Tribal Constitutions Conference, Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Colette Routel:

"Our next speaker is Vanya Hogen. Vanya is a graduate of the University of Minnesota's law school and ever since she graduated she's worked in the field of Indian law. She first worked at the BlueDog Indian law boutique firm and later went on to Faegre & Benson, which is now called Faegre Baker Daniels and then the Jacobson Buffalo law firm and has recently formed her own firm called Hogen Adams where she's representing Indian tribes.

Some of her sort of notable litigation successes I guess include representing Lauren Pourier in motor fuel tax litigation against the State of South Dakota and receiving a favorable decision from the South Dakota Supreme Court preventing the state from collecting motor fuel tax on the reservation to tribal members. And more recently she won a recent case in the 8th Circuit for the Fond du Lac Band [of Lake Superior Chippewa] challenging the required continued payments to the City of Duluth as part of their Fond du Luth Casino.

Vanya's going to talk with us here today about her representation of the Shakopee [Mdewakanton Sioux] Community in their enrollment and citizenship disputes and talk a little bit about revising IRA constitutions and non-IRA constitutions. I should say now she is actually a judge for Shakopee and has been for a number of years and doesn't represent them right now. So I hope you'll join me in welcoming Vanya Hogen."

[applause]

Vanya Hogen:

"Thanks not only for the nice introduction, but for inviting me to speak today. I'm going to apologize in advance because I've got sort of a bad cold and may break out into a fit of coughing during my presentation, but I'll do my best. The topic that I was given is "˜Mechanisms of Constitutional Reform' and I am going to talk about constitutional reform, particularly in the context of membership criteria, but I also want to talk to you about a way...another possible way to change membership criteria without having to amend your constitution. This is based on my experience in working with the Shakopee community.

As Colette mentioned, I am a judge for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community's tribal court now. I have been since 2007, so everything I'm talking about today are from cases I worked on before I was on the bench, when I served as a lawyer for the Community and it's all from years of litigation in cases that are public, so that's why I can talk to you about it today.

The Community started in the early "˜90s to talk about changing its membership criteria from having a quarter blood requirement -- which was a quarter Mdewakanton Sioux blood -- to moving toward a lineal descendency requirement and it was a controversial idea. There was certainly not unanimity of opinions in the Community about whether they should make that move, but the Shakopee Community is very small. It only became federally recognized in 1969 and at the time they were recognized, there were less than 40 people who comprised the original membership of the community. And because of the quarter Mdewakanton Sioux blood requirement, they started to realize that kind of all the intermarriage that could occur within the community had already occurred. At the time we were looking at this in the early "˜90s there were really just eight different family groups that comprised the whole community and so if they kept the quarter blood requirement, folks could see that going into the future the membership was going to go down and down and down. And so there was a move to try to change the membership requirements and they ended up doing this in two different ways, one of which ended up being successful and one of it did not end up being successful. And I'm going to start by talking about their efforts at constitutional reform and this, I think, will be more broadly applicable.

The Shakopee Community was organized under the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] and its constitution has language in it that says that any amendments have to be approved by the Secretary [of Interior], which means calling a secretarial election. Other tribal constitutions -- for tribes who aren't organized under the IRA, for example -- aren't required to go through the secretarial election process that's set out in federal regulations. And some tribes who were organized under the IRA have -- since the time they were originally setting up their constitutions -- have amended their constitutions and taken out those federal...the requirements to do a secretarial election. But at Shakopee, they had this requirement, and so there are federal regulations at Part 81 of Title 25 of the CFR that say exactly how you have to hold an election to amend your constitution. And I want to just quickly walk through how that process goes and then talk about how it went at Shakopee.

The first step is that the tribe has to figure out some internal process to come up with what the proposed amendments to the constitution are and often this happens with...in consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and while that sounds paternalistic, if any of you are thinking of going through this process, I would actually recommend that you do get involved...get the Bureau involved early on, because at the very end of the process the Department of Interior has to approve or disapprove your amendments -- assuming they pass in the election -- based on whether they comply with applicable law or at least whether the Interior Department thinks they comply with applicable law. So you may as well know up front if the amendments that you're voting on comply with federal law at least in the view of the Department.

Once the tribe comes up with the proposed amendments, the tribal governing body has to vote to call the secretarial election. And the vote is not just to generally call an election to amend the constitution; it's a vote to call an amendment to amend the constitution in a particular way. So you actually are voting on calling election on the amendments that you are going to consider so you have to have them all done up front. The Department then has 90 days after that to call the election and then the Department sets up an election board, which consists of one Bureau official and two tribal members. And it's the election board's job to determine the voter list, to decide any challenges to the voter list and to actually oversee the election and the counting of the ballots, etcetera. The election board sets the potential voter list that gets published at the tribe and then people who are either...who have been left off the list and want to be on the list or somebody who's on the list and thinks other people are improperly on the list can file challenges with the election board. And what the regulations say is that the election board is supposed to be able to make final decisions about voter eligibility, which is important to the Shakopee story.

Once the election board decides on any voter challenges, they certify the final voting list, the election is held and then voters have three days in which they can challenge the election results. The Secretary then has...Secretary of the Interior then has 45 days to disapprove the amendments if she finds that the amendments are contrary to applicable law. So the way this is all written in the regs, it assumes that the challenges that are filed are not going to be about decisions on voter eligibility, it's all about the content of the amendments and trying to help the Assistant Secretary decide that they're contrary to applicable law.

What happened at Shakopee was the community engaged in a rather long process of holding community meetings to try to decide what the content of the proposed amendments should be, because they were not just looking at membership criteria, but they were also looking at, for one thing, taking all the requirements in their constitution for BIA approval of various ordinances and that kind of thing out of the constitution. If I recall correctly, because this was in the mid-1990s that they were doing this, they were also changing the size of their business council -- which governs the day-to-day activities of the tribe -- and several other things, putting references to the tribal court in the constitution. It was really kind of a major overhaul. So they came up with the language of the constitution, the governing body of the tribe, which at Shakopee was a general council, voted on those amendments, voted to call the election, the Secretary called the election or the...yeah, the designee of the Secretary called the election, an election board was set up, they put out a potential voter's list and there were challenges filed to over 50 percent of the voter's list and this kind of tells you a little bit about what was going on at the time in terms of membership disputes. As I say, there was a quarter-blood requirement, but there were a lot of disagreements in the community, as there are in a lot of different tribes at various times about, "˜Well, so and so isn't really a quarter blood. They never should have been included on that list,' or there's other families who everybody knows they're quarter bloods and they've been left off the list. There were all those kind of disputes and they all got filed with the election board as challenges.

So the election board goes through all the information that's been filed, they rule on these challenges to the voter list and they then certify the final voter's list. And as I say, the regs say that the election board's decisions about voter eligibility are final. So then there is an actual election and the constitutional amendments pass by...given the small size of the community, it was actually a fairly sizeable margin. Well, within the time to challenge, there are a couple different sets of challenges filed, all of them based on voter eligibility. And it turns out that...so some of the people in the community who are very opposed to changing to a lineal descendency requirement are challenging the blood quantum of a lot of people who voted in the election and they file boxes of materials with the Assistant Secretary.

Well, under the...the way this is supposed to work, the Secretary -- it turns out to be the Assistant Secretary who did it in this case -- has 45 days to approve or disapprove the amendments and is only supposed to disapprove them if they're contrary to applicable law. Well, on the 43rd day, the Assistant Secretary issued a decision saying that because there was so much information filed he could not approve the amendments in the time allowed by the regs. And so what he was going to do instead, he ruled, was appoint an administrative law judge who would go through these boxes of genealogical materials that had been filed to decide who really should be allowed to vote. And then the Assistant Secretary said once the administrative law judge made recommendations to him about that, he would call a new secretarial election based on the decisions that were made about who should be allowed to vote.

Well, in response to that, the Community decided to sue the Department and to challenge the Assistant Secretary's decision, and the arguments that we made to the federal district court were first of all that the regulations say the election board's decisions are final and what does that mean if the Assistant Secretary can come back and reopen it to another process? So we argued that the Assistant Secretary's interpretation was unreasonable. The other thing that we argued was that because the Secretary didn't actually approve or disapprove the amendments within 40 days -- he just said I can't decide this in 45 days because there's too much material -- that the amendments should be deemed approved.

Unfortunately -- from the Community leadership's point of view and mine as their lawyer -- we lost that case. And what the district court said to us was -- ruled -- was that although he didn't necessarily think the Assistant Secretary's interpretation of the word 'final'...and what the Assistant Secretary had said was when the regs say that the election board's decisions are final, that just means final for the purposes of holding the election, it doesn't mean final forever. The judge said, 'That may not be the most reasonable reading, but it's not unreasonable so I'm going to uphold it.' And then the judge also ruled that the Assistant Secretary saying, "˜I just can't approve this within 45 days because of...there's too much information to go through,' was effectively a disapproval even though it wasn't a disapproval based on the only reason that you're supposed to be able to disapprove, which is if the amendments are contrary to law. So we appealed to the 8th Circuit, we lost on a two-to-one decision and so we ended up with a final ruling that the secretarial election process was going to have to start all over again after we waited for an administrative law judge to rule on the blood quantum of all these people who had been challenged.

Well, it took, after about two-and-a-half years, we still didn't have a ruling from the administrative law judge, and in fact we had gone through three administrative law judges because they kept getting transferred or quitting. And so finally the Community decided, 'Forget it. We don't want to deal with this process. We aren't going to try to amend our constitution. If we want to do another secretarial election, we'll start all over ourselves.' So they took a vote and voted to withdraw the request for a secretarial election, transmitted that to the Department and it took the Department just a mere year to finally acknowledge that that had been done and to say, "˜Okay, well, you're not going to hold a secretarial election, but we're still going to go through with this blood quantum process because we can use that information to distribute some Docket 363 monies.' So that process kept going for years even though it then had nothing to do with the secretarial election process.

As you might imagine, just from the length of time it takes for me to tell you this, it was about three years I think from the time that the Community had adopted these amendments to the time that they finally decided forget this process, it's not working. So they...and they had decided earlier to try this other approach as well and that was instead of amending their constitution to try passing an ordinance called an adoption ordinance that would allow the Community to adopt lineal descendents as members of the Community. Now the Community's constitution was sort of your stereotypical boilerplate IRA constitution, and so it has an article regarding membership and Section 1 of that article sets out the criteria, the blood quantum criteria for becoming a member. So you can either be listed on the base roll that was created when the Community was organized in 1969, you can be a child of one of those people who is at least a quarter-degree Mdewakanton or you can be a quarter-degree Mdewakanton and trace to the same roll that Lenor [Scheffler] was talking about earlier, the 1886, I think it was called the Hinton Roll. So that was...that's one section of their constitution regarding membership.

The second section is more procedural and what it says is that "˜the governing body shall have the power to pass resolutions or ordinances, subject to the approval of the Secretary, governing future membership adoptions and loss of membership.' So the Community's general council passed a resolution that allowed people to become adopted into membership if they were lineal descendents, that is you did not have to meet the quarter-blood requirement and it provided that once that happened they would get all...those adopted members would get all the same benefits of membership that any other member got. The Community submitted that ordinance to the, I think it was then actually even called the 'Area Office,' that's how long ago this was, sent it to the BIA and the BIA disapproved it saying, "˜We don't think it makes sense that you could adopt somebody into membership who doesn't meet the membership requirements. That's not what that section is intended to allow even though you, tribe, think that's what it's intended to allow.'

So we appealed that decision, that disapproval to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals and argued, "˜Look, if you have to meet the membership criteria to be adopted into membership, then what does adoption mean? It's a completely meaningless term.' The IBIA [Interior Board of Indian Appeals] ended up agreeing with the Community's interpretation and what they actually ruled was, "˜We don't think that the Bureau's reading is unreasonable, but we also don't think that the Community's reading is unreasonable. But because the Community's reasoning...the Community's interpretation is reasonable and it's their constitution, the Bureau should have deferred to their interpretation of their own constitution,' and so the IBIA directed the area director to approve the ordinance and that's what happened.

And I would love to say that that's the end of the story, but it was not the end of the story because of course that decision was appealed to the IBIA and it ultimately got dismissed just because it was an individual tribal member who had appealed it and you don't have standing in the IBIA to appeal if you're just an individual member as opposed to the government. But that ultimately led to federal litigation and for reasons that I won't go into, the Community ended up having to pass another adoption ordinance that essentially did the same thing but they fixed some perceived procedural irregularities and that ordinance was also...it got approved by the Bureau, but it got challenged in tribal court and in federal court, but ultimately upheld in both of those courts.

And that's the way the Community's law has stood now for about I guess a little over 10 years they've had this adoption ordinance on the books, and many, many people have been adopted as members of the Community. And at first -- in the first couple of years after this -- there were a lot of hard feelings as you might imagine, from the people who really didn't want that quarter-blood requirement changed. They weren't happy that the Community leadership had taken this approach and it ended up that you'd see a lot of people applying for adoption who were the lineal descendants of the then current tribal leadership, but not very many people from other families in the Community, that is descendants of the groups who didn't want the constitution amendment applying for adoption.

But over time, that has changed and even though I don't have as direct a view of it now because I'm on the bench, it now seems that everyone in the Community has endorsed this and you see people getting adopted from all different families. And so it ultimately has worked for that community, for that community to change their membership criteria by ordinance instead of doing it through the more traditional route of doing it in terms of a constitutional amendment. I think that what the whole experience shows -- and I'm sure not telling you anything you don't know -- is that these issues are extraordinarily contentious and it just, particularly in a place like Shakopee, where you've got a tribe that makes per capita payments, you get in a lot of people who are litigious and so...there were well over a dozen I would say lawsuits altogether that were fought over these issues and it took a long time to heal. I don't know if there are questions that folks have about either of these procedures."

Audience member:

"My question has to do with enrollment criteria and of course the mechanisms that exist under our current constitution, which identifies an election process like you discussed. If a tribe does not follow that particular...is there an avenue or an option for a particular band of that tribe to have an election process that deviates from the constitution's election process to change a membership criteria, as an example?"

Vanya Hogen:

"I can't see your name tag [and] where you're from, but I assume you're from one of the MCT [Minnesota Chippewa Tribe] bands. And I wasn't here in the morning if there was discussion about this. And that is such a unique situation, but I guess my top-of-my-head lawyer response is that if you have an IRA-approved constitution that sets out a procedure, that's probably the procedure you're going to get stuck with, at least to have the outside world recognize the results of your constitution, of your amendments. How's that for a vague, lawyerly answer?"

Matthew Fletcher:

"So it's been a couple of decades removed from your experience trying to get amendments to your constitution approved or the tribe's constitution approved and then to have this ordinance approved, do you think that the [Department of the] Interior has changed? Is it more deferential to try now than it was in the "˜90s or would you still see the same nitpicky, "˜Well, this isn't what your constitution intended to provide so we disapprove'?"

Vanya Hogen:

"Well, I would like to think that at least, if nothing else, because of the IBIA precedents that came out of that decision, that the regional offices have been better, and certainly for Shakopee when they did have to adopt that new ordinance and it went up, there was no question but that it was going to be approved. I think it has probably gotten better. Although it kind of depends on...if you'd asked me that question six years ago I might not have said that, but depending on where the direction is coming from the top I think that can really make a difference, meaning that if we have a good Assistant Secretary that can make a difference. And I don't want to say...I got very caught up in this fight when I was litigating it for years and years and didn't think that what the Assistant Secretary was doing all the time was in the tribe's best interest, but I do understand when you have...in this case in particular, there were a lot of people in the Community who did not think that the way the leadership was going about this was the best way to do it and they really thought that that quarter-blood requirement should stay in the constitution and that...and so I can see if I were... if I had been in the Assistant Secretary's shoes that I would want to try to make sure that every possible procedural safeguard was put in place before something...this kind of change was effectuated. I think that's it for the questions."

Colette Routel:

"Are there any other questions? Let's thank Vanya for speaking to us."

[applause]

Vanya Hogen:

"Thank you."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Frank Ettawageshik (Part 2)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Frank Ettawageshik, former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBO), discusses the critical role that intergovernmental relationship building plays in the practical exercise of sovereignty and the rebuilding of Native nations. He shares several compelling examples of how LTBBO built such relationships in order to achieve their strategic priorities.

Resource Type
Citation

Ettawageshik, Frank. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 2)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 13, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

"So we're back with Frank Ettawageshik. This is a continuation of the interview from April 6th. Today is April 13th and we're going to pick up where we left off, which was talking about constitutions. And I want to essentially go back to the very beginning on this topic and ask you for your definition of what a constitution is."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"The constitution is the method by which the people inform their government how they want the government to serve them and the government is a tool of the people to achieve what they need to achieve in terms of relations to other governments, in terms of relation to how things are going to work internally. The people themselves maintain the complete power. And then they can either give or take back certain powers to the government through the constitution. The constitution also establishes the mechanism for how the tribal government, the tribal nation will deal with other nations. It sets up the parameters for how you are going to do that, "˜which branch of government has which authority?' and all of those types of things. To me the constitution is a tool of the people for how they are going to manage their government."

Ian Record:

"What key ingredients do you feel constitutions need to have in order to be effective?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, constitutions...to me, there's a legislative function, there's a judicial function, and an executive function, and these need to be acknowledged and then the interplay between them is what the constitution does. Some tribal nations have constitutions where all of those powers are wrapped up into one body. Others have clear separations of powers, but even ones that have separation of powers the balance of those changes from one to another. So really those are important functions, I think another thing needs to be clearly you have to have an amendment clause on how you are going to amend it. You need to have some basic statements. I believe that it is extremely important to have like a bill of rights built into it. I think that's very important because those things need to be part of what our people come to expect in terms of how they are going to relate with their government. And when the people are telling the government how it's going to function they need to reserve for themselves certain rights, certain ways to protect themselves. I look at a constitution in a way as the people trying to protect themselves from their own government and I think that not only does it say how it's going to function, but it also limits how it's going to function, and guides it so that it will...constitutions that are poorly conceived or poorly written or ones that the community, the tribal nation has grown beyond, they can hamper how things will function. They can be difficult. For instance, constitutions do not require, nor does federal law require that they be adopted by secretarial election. Nor do they require that amendments be done by secretarial election, yet many constitutions throughout Indian Country require secretarial election by their own words, and so I think an important function there would be to not have that in your constitution. To me, you are either sovereign or you aren't, you are not part sovereign. And as a nation, tribal nations, sovereign tribal nations are constantly negotiating the exercise of that sovereignty with the other sovereigns around them. We may be with another tribe, another tribal nation close by, having some disputes about whose territories is whose or what...in economic development, there's room for competition and some issues. There could even be citizen issues regarding membership or citizenship. And we need to...the documents need to sort of deal with those things that are coming up."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up on something you said. You talked about a number of Native nations growing beyond their constitutions. We hear that sort of refrain, particularly in the discussions of tribes who have Indian Reorganization Act systems of government that were adopted in the 1930s. They had a very different conception of the scope of self-governance, if you will. Is that something you've seen in your line of work, working with tribes both as chairman and now as executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Every tribe has its own constitution or its own, either written or not written, in terms of how the government's going to function. Most of the tribes I've worked with have written constitutions and they're all different and they have...there are clearly times when you move beyond something. The United States has amended its constitution a number of times, and not always successfully. Witness Prohibition for instance, and the fact that there's one amendment that brings it in and another one that takes it out. So the fact that a government might need to amend its constitution is not unusual. Some amendments may be more far ranging than others. Some amendments are a sentence here, or two. Other amendments might be more drastic than that, but I would think that, think of it rather that the constitution is an organic document that is evolving as the nation evolves."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to pick up on a specific aspect of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians' constitution, which was adopted in 2005, and it gets at this issue that you mentioned in the outset when defining constitutions, which is international or diplomatic relations. And explicit in your constitution is an acknowledgment of other sovereign nations and their inherent powers presuming that those sovereign nations, in turn, recognize and respect the sovereignty of your nation. Can you summarize what that clause says and give an overview of perhaps why your tribe felt it necessary to include that?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, when you, like I said, when you acknowledge that sovereignty in yourself and in others then you have to exercise or negotiate that sovereignty with your neighbors. So what I think is here is that you're constantly working with those other sovereigns, but you need to figure out how to decide who you are dealing with and who you aren't. And so the most basic way of that is that if somebody else acknowledges you, well you can acknowledge them, but you have to have some sort of a process for that. What this clause in our constitution does is it establishes a basis for some office, or staff person, or somebody that would be akin to a state department for instance, where there's an international relations office that deals with negotiations with other sovereigns and those types of things. Those negotiations, those other sovereigns might well be the United States and the laws that they are passing could have an effect on the way we exercise our sovereignty, but the fact that, for the most part, what we have done in Indian country is that we have federally recognized tribes deal with federally recognized tribes and I think what that does is that sort of...we're letting the United States decide who we're going to have diplomatic relations with, and I don't think that is a good idea. But we have the right to make that decision ourselves, but then along with that right comes the responsibility to do it in a way that you are doing it reasonably. So then what do we do? Do we have a whole acknowledgement process, each one of us? How do we go about doing that if we're not going to sort of let someone else vet the potential list of people with whom we'll have relations. I think the whole federal acknowledgement process doesn't grant sovereignty to those tribes that make it through, instead it acknowledges that they have it and that's what it's all about. So what that means is that the non-recognized tribes also are sovereign, and the state recognized tribes are sovereign, and the federally recognized tribes are sovereign. Tribal governments have inherent sovereignty and no one gives it to them. They have it because it comes through being in this creation. Well, you still have the responsibility to do it, to do it wisely because not everyone who claims to be a tribe is a tribe and that's the difficult thing. There are examples of people who have formed...recently, there have been some prosecutions here across the United States of people who have had various money, get-rich schemes, that involve pretending to be a tribe and issuing cards and charging people for it. Those are things we have to look out for, but then that's the responsibility of a sovereign nation is to not just look inward, but look outward because threats come from outside as well as potential good things come from outside and we have to be able to recognize them and deal with them."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned or we've been discussing the constitutional mandate within your tribe's constitution to essentially engage in international relations. It places a high value on that process. Since the 1980s, there's been an incredible growth in intergovernmental relations between Native nations and various other governments and I'm curious to learn from you, what do you think is driving this growth?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"A recognition that we need to look outside ourselves and work together. I mean if you look at what has happened across the world in this time, the European Union is formed and variety of very nationalistic individualistic nations realized the value of working together. While they still have their independence and unique in their own countries, at the same time, they have a centralized currency and other things that make for a good sense. Tribes have the same kind of thing. We know that there is strength in numbers and as a matter of fact back there in the revolutionary time here in the United States, many of our leaders spoke to the Continental Congress and to the early [U.S.] Congress about the strength of working together. As a matter of fact, there is a famous speech about 13 fires being stronger than one that was given and these are the kinds of things that come from us and our understanding and we often formed alliances of some sorts with us coming together, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for instance is one, the Three Fires Confederacy is another, and there are others all across the country where different tribes have worked together. So what kind of things have we done?

One of the examples of working together is the formation of the National Congress of American Indians back in the '40s. It was formed to combat the national trend towards not recognizing the tribes, tribal governments or saying, "˜alright the tribal governments have progressed far enough, now we can terminate our relationship with them.' And so the whole Termination era came through and NCAI, that was one of the big pushes for NCAI. One of the things that we found as we were doing some studying and I still have more to do on this, but not only was there the non-profit corporation created that is the National Congress of American Indians, but at the same time there was also a treaty written and was signed by a number of the nations that acknowledged each others' sovereignty. I mean, it's a very...it showed and demonstrated in writing, the understanding of the tribal nations that they were and still are independent sovereigns and no matter what other people may think about it. And so, I think that that was one example, NCAI.

Other examples of working together I'm going to put up, more recently, we in the Great Lakes signed an agreement called the Tribal and First Nation Great Lakes Water Accord. This was done because the states and provinces were working on the issues of bulk ground water and diversion of water from the Great Lakes and how are they going to work together to deal with those issues as they came up and there had been a succession of agreements, finally one where they would agree and create binding agreements and then it was in the creation of these binding agreements that they started work and we got wind of the things. They talked to us a little, but they always talked to us as stakeholders and we felt that that wasn't correct. They needed to talk to us as sovereign governments within the region because we had court-adjudicated rights within that region. We were the only government with government-to-government relationship through treaties and that was important that we be apart of it, so when we weren't part of it and they did treat us as stakeholders we went out and called a meeting of all of the tribes and first nations in the Great Lakes Basin. There is about 185, some are together and some are not, and so when I say about there is a couple different ways of looking at it, but it's over 180 tribes and First Nations in the Great Lakes. We ended up having representatives -- either individually or either through consortia -- we ended up with representatives of 120 tribes and First Nations at a meeting with just a few weeks notice, which we negotiated and signed this water accord. Within one day, we were at the table, invited to the table to negotiate with the states and the provinces and what they planned on signing at about a month, it took actually almost a year before it was ready to go and we managed to strengthen those documents in a way that they will help protect the environment and the waters because we plugged holes that were there that were wide open because tribes and First Nations weren't there. We also took offending language out; they managed to negotiate language to come out of these documents that didn't acknowledge tribal property rights or tribal treaty rights. So in the end there's an interstate compact that's agreed [to] by all of the governors signed it with the tribes had to agree. And then the governors all had to get the state legislature in each of eight states to pass the identical wording which was no easy trick and they got that done and it went to the U.S. Congress where there was a lobby to push this through. If the interstate compact is approved by Congress it becomes law of the land and it's a provision within the U.S. Constitution that allows it.

So this interstate compact, there was a strong lobby trying to fight it because they thought it didn't go far enough. One of the key things it didn't do is it didn't bottle water in containers, 5 gallons and less is considered a consumptive use as opposed to a diversion. A lot of people felt that it should have been a diversion if that water was bottled and shipped outside of the Great Lakes aquifers. And so nevertheless it ended up passing at the U.S. Congress and it became law, then it was an international agreement that was signed between the eight states and the two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Quebec. With parallel language, but the two provinces weren't able to sign onto the interstate compact so they created this other document that has that in it. It at least deals with issues when there is a permit for a withdrawal of a lot of water from the ground that will be vetted through a process. The tribes and First Nations agreed that we would have a parallel process to the states, rather that all be a part of one process. So we are still working on how that is going to be set up, but nevertheless we've all agreed to it. Since that was signed there have been another 30 nations sign on, tribal nations and we now have about 150-160 that have signed out of the 185. So that is an example of an international agreement working between the tribes and working across what the United States calls an international border between it and Canada. And there are others, League of Indigenous Nations is another way we're working with, not only First Nations and tribes, but also with the Maori and the Aborigines, potentially with the Indigenous folks throughout Mexico and Latin America and other places. So we're looking at what kind of things are there that we all have in common. And Indigenous intellectual property rights, our medicines and stories for instance...issues of climate change and there's substantial things that we all have in common, trade relations with each other, the ability to trade not just in goods perhaps, but to trade in ideas and thoughts. Those are things that are important."

Ian Record:

"You've been discussing international relations primarily between tribal peoples, between tribal nations. Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians has also been very active in the arena of intergovernmental relations between your band and other local governments, state governments and that sort of thing. I'm wondering if you could discuss in what areas is your nation currently engaged in that arena? I know, for instance, you have cross-deputization agreements with two counties. Maybe talk a little bit more about what your tribe is doing in that area."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"And we've come a long way from the point...quite a long time ago as the chair, I received a letter from a local prosecutor who indicated that our police were impersonating police officers and they couldn't be on the roads with their lights and they couldn't have car with emblems and most importantly they couldn't have radios with those little chips in them that allowed them to pick up police frequencies and that I had 10 days to deliver them to them. So we wrote them a letter back and said "˜You know where those cars are, you are welcome to takes those anytime you want, but as soon as you do be prepared for a visit from the U.S. Attorney.' So we called the U.S. Attorney and had a nice chat and that same person ended up signing off on a limited deputization agreement within about a year and a half after that and then we have full deputization that has been signed since then with two different counties. We worked on trying to have seamless public safety within the community. We didn't want to be a haven for people who were breaking the law on one side of a line and then crossing the other and then thumbing their nose at the police or things like that. So we worked hard to make sure that when there's a search and rescue for instance that is going on, our officers are trained and a part of the team and can help. And the public safety of the community is enhanced because they have this additional training. In addition to that, we have crowd control issues. Our officers have worked on part of the security detail for the governor when the government does the Mackinac Bridge Walk every year. And every year it's a five-mile span. Every year on Labor Day we walk the bridge. It's a huge crowd and frankly, they pull in different local people and our officers as well. We also work closely with the county and state police. One of the stories from this inter-cooperative agreement kind of thing that we've been able to do: we had the U.S. attorney general come to visit at Little Traverse. And we had all kinds of security things and there's all kind of things you have to do. We, of course, had to have a bomb dog to sweep the whole building and they have this and that and all kind of things. And as he was leaving after this meeting, and he was meeting with all the tribes in Michigan, and after he was leaving, he pulled out from our grounds and drove by Little Bear Cave and saw that there was a state trooper, country sheriff, a city policeman, and tribal police all standing together chatting right there. And we got a call from the FBI in the car with him. He got a question, 'How did we do that?' But that was part of what we tried to do, we tried to build that relationship. We also, if they come on our territory unannounced, we're not against making sure that they know that they're not supposed to do it. So if we had an investigation going on and they forgot to call us or something, we'd let them know. But likewise, if we did something that they didn't like, they'd let us know, so we developed, what we did is we built in safety valves in our relationships so that they were there if there was an issue, we had a way to deal with it right away. And so it's been a cooperative venture when the sheriff of both counties and his deputies show up and they stood before me as the tribal chairman and took an oath to uphold the tribal constitution and all of our laws, that was a pretty big step."

Ian Record:

"This case is interesting because it calls to mind this perspective or mindset you used to see more in Indian Country than you do now, but the idea that, well if you enter an agreement or develop a formal relationship with a local municipality just off the reservation, or a county or a township or something like that, you're somehow relinquishing your sovereignty because those are minor-league governments and we're sovereign nations. That -- from what I can gather -- that perspective is being replaced gradually by the perspective that when a tribe chooses to engage those other governments, in whatever way they see fit, that it's actually an exercise of sovereignty. How do you see what your tribe's been doing in that area?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, that's exactly the way I'd put it, it is an exercise of sovereignty. An example of an exercise of sovereignty working locally is if you have someone slip and fall at your casino and they hurt themselves and they sue you, of course you've got the insurance company, but if the insurance company turns around and claims sovereign immunity every time somebody sues what are you paying the insurance for? So an exercise of sovereignty, one that helps us protect us and our customers would be [what we did] is to waive our sovereign immunity up to the limits of our insurance policy so that someone could sue and be taken care of if they needed to be, therefore getting what we were paying for when we bought our insurance. Well, that's an example of an exercise of sovereignty that works well. And governments waive sovereignty on a regular basis for things. I mean they waive their immunity but never waive sovereignty, let me correct myself there. And that exercising your sovereignty through a waiver of immunity is a responsible thing for a government to do towards its own citizens and towards the citizens of other nations with which we deal: our customers at the casino, our guests at the gas station, the customers coming by, and we have a hotel and we have conferences there, we have lots of people coming through. We have to deal with the issues of...I mean, one of the issues we ran into was within Indian Country it was illegal for anyone to carry a firearm unless there was some law that was passed that allowed it. So in the absence of it, it's illegal to have it. Well we had guests; we had the outdoor writers coming as an association. They were coming to our hotel and one of the things they were going to do was a rabbit hunt and they had all brought their guns and it was going to be illegal for them to have them in their room, to have them in their car in the parking lot, and so we had to pass a law that allowed how this set up, how this was going to happen. It was one of those responsibilities of being a sovereign that it became important to work on."

Ian Record:

"And so what you're saying is it's not just international relations, it's not just a sovereign challenge involving other governments, but involving individuals who are citizens of those governments, individuals like these sports writers and the casino patrons and so forth."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, ultimately it actually is dealing with the other sovereign, it's just that the other sovereign has citizens. And so as you interact with those citizens, you're interacting with that other sovereign government and you have to figure out how that's going to be done. So those are just some examples of things that we had to do that I felt are important. And ultimately, these things were things that our tribal council passed as laws and our tribal courts have worked to enforce and for the police and the courts to go through this. And so this is our tribal government at work in the process of making laws, being responsible, and exercising sovereignty."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up a little bit more on intergovernmental relations. And obviously the water accord that your nation participated in is one example of many that your tribe's been engaged in developing over the course of the last several decades. And I'm curious to get your thoughts about taking collectively all those relationships that you developed, all those formal agreements you forged, how do those collectively work to advance your nation's rebuilding efforts."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the prior administration to me, actually it was a four-year time period when I was not in office and during that time period, our tribe was one of the tribes that worked with the governor of the state in a tribal-state accord in which the State of Michigan acknowledged sovereignty of the tribes, pledged to work together and establish certain things that they would do. We...I came back in office, we were preparing to have, I think one of the first meetings where we'd all get together following that. And as we were preparing for that meeting, I just don't like to go to meetings where the outcome of the meeting is, "˜Well, we'll have another meeting.' I'd really like to actually have a product from the meeting. And I spoke about that and wanted to do that, other people agreed, and as a collective we developed a water accord with the State of Michigan. So this was how the tribes and the state would deal with the collective, our collective interest in the waters of the state. And the accord itself was one that's right about...it's on the heels of our tribal and First Nations water accord and it's all this, this time period is all sort of involved in the same effort. But with this one, instead of the tribes pledging to work together, we pledged to work together with the state and establish twice-yearly meetings, staff-level meetings, not elected-level, but staff-level meetings where we would deal with the issues of what came up relative to water. And of course water is part of the environment, so certain environmental things started coming in. Subsequent to that, we came up with another agreement that we put together creating an accord on economic development. And then we came up with an addendum to that, creating, establishing an agreement to do and economic development fellows program that would say, half state, half tribal –- state folks and tribal folks –- that would work say, over a couple-year period to get a cohort of participants on the same page relative to the issues of economic development in Indian Country. Well this has been a little slower to take, but it's been one that's been brewing and we have a meeting coming up in just a couple weeks from the day we're doing this interview that, where we're going to be furthering some of those issues with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Well, those are some of the things that we did and then, we also have signed a climate action, climate accord, dealing with climate change issues, also establishing twice-yearly meetings. I served on the Michigan Climate Action Council. I was appointed by the governor to be part of that council that helped create the plan for the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses and all the different issues surround climate change. And we turned in a report to the governor, and part of that report recommended that the tribe, that the state negotiate and sign with the tribes a climate accord. And the reason for that is because tribes are not political subdivisions of the state and it made, it would've been really difficult to incorporate us into the state's plan, but part of the state's plan was to sign an accord with us to work out common issues. And also part of the state's plan was to work with tribal organizations to further the issues. So for instance, they send a rep to the National Congress of American Indians' meetings relative to climate change, and to NTEC, the National Tribal Environmental Council, other meetings to make sure that they're, the state is sort of on sync with those things. So that's part of how we do with that accord. So when you look at each one of these accords, you put all this together, the tribal-state accord and the water, the economic development, the climate accord, you put all that together in terms of how we've related to the state, we've...I guess I should mention a couple of other things.

We also signed a tax agreement with the state. The state realized that we probably could go to court, which other tribes had done and that it was going to cost both of us millions of dollars and the outcome was uncertain. The uncertainty was there enough for the state that they felt that it was worthwhile trying to find a way to negotiate. So we ended up with a tribal-state tax agreement that is negotiated as a whole, then signed individually with the tribes and there's slight variations in each of them, but they're all pretty much set up...the system and then that also establishes an annual meeting where we get together to talk about the issues related to the taxes in the state. And sometimes our meetings, we've actually had a couple meetings that were over in 20 minutes. We had the meeting, we all got there, and we said, "˜Boy, it's really nice not to have anything to talk about.' So we chat with each other a little bit, reacquaint ourselves and eat a donut or two and we're done. Other times, we are actually in very long discussions and I've been in both of those kind [of meetings]. But the tax agreement was basically how the state is not going to collect taxes that it can't collect and what the mechanism is going to be for that. Well, these are other things that helped establish things. So we did this without having to go to court over the issue. And we believe that we got things that we wouldn't have gotten had we gone to court, but we also perhaps didn't get some things we might have gotten. So the question is, the state, both of us benefitted and we think that it furthered our interest by doing this."

Ian Record:

"I mean, I guess overall, overall from what you're saying, is that by consistently, continuously engaging in these sorts of efforts, you send a very clear message to the outside world -- whether it's the feds, the states, local neighboring communities to the reservation -- that, "˜We're big league governments. We're sovereign nations for real.' And then there's the message that you send to your own citizens. Isn't there a strong message that these sort of actions can send to your own people?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. Well they, I think that and one of the other agreements that we did was we settled U.S. v. Michigan fishing rights case and as we worked on that the original case had been filed years ago and then it was bifurcated. The inland portion was sort of put on idle and the Great Lakes portion proceeded through court and we won the right in court and there have been a 15-year and then a 20-year consent decree that have been negotiated on how we are going to exercise that right on the Great Lakes and so we continue to work with the five tribes in the state that are involved in that. Well, the inland portion eventually got to the point where it eventually where it was heating up and looked like it was getting ready to go to trial and we actually hired our witnesses and expert witnesses and we had done depositions and we were moving towards court, but we at the same time worked and a couple opportunities came up and we moved ahead in some negotiations and we thought we try to negotiate. We successfully negotiated a settlement in the inland portion of the U.S. v. Michigan fishing, hunting and gathering rights case. Unprecedented. I believe it's an exceptional agreement in that the tribes gave up things that we surely would have won had gone to court, but those are things that we already were not likely to want to exercise ourselves and one of them was commercialization of inland harvest and also putting gillnets in inland streams and rivers. Both of those were things that we didn't think were too wise, but we could have won those rights and probably would have if gone to court.

However, the state stipulated without going to trial that our treaty right existed perpetually. It's a permanent consent decree and so this was a big deal to us. The second thing was is that they ended up agreeing that we could exercise that right on property that the tribe owned whether they had just purchased it or whether it had been purchased years before and or whether it was a part of the reservation, whatever. They also agreed to do this on private lands with permission and this is way more than we would have won had we gone to court. So we think that we got a lot of things that are very important to us and gave up things, while they are important, they also were worth it in the deal and this is without spending millions of dollars and continuing to spend. It would have been appealed; it would have been a 10-year case by the time it went on. This was a success.

Well, what did that do in the end? At the end when we got this agreement, together we had the state DNR [Departemtn of Natural Resources] touting the agreement and holding classes and seminars around the state to let their citizens know about this agreement and to say why it was such a great idea and we had tribes doing the same thing, but on top of that we also had the various sportsmen associations and the lake owners' associations that had been advising the state on the case and had been working with the state and they called it, the term was "˜litigating amicae,' which I understand is a term that the judge may have made up, I don't know at the time, but they were parties to the case and to that extent -- not parties, but they were amicae. Well, we had these groups, the Michigan United Conservation Club, the lake owners' association, and they were all promoting this so that instead of...result of this and in other states have had to call out the National Guard when they were dealing with this issue when they have really potential dangerous things going on and in Michigan when we got this settlement, everybody realized that it was going to protect the resources and it worked with minor exceptions here and there. I mean there were some tribal members that were upset and there were others. I mean we had some folks just as soon die on the sword, they would just as soon fight and lose rather than negotiate. There was more honor in that. And to me, I look at it, I wasn't worried about my honor or I was worried about that, what I was worried about is the long term. What are our great-great grandchildren going to be doing? And now in Michigan, they're going to be exercising treaty rights."

Ian Record:

"That's a great story and we're seeing more and more of those kind of stories across Indian Country because, I guess, this realization that negotiation, if done right and if done for the right reasons, can bring you much greater outcomes in both in the present and in the future than litigation. Because litigation, even if you win the case, there's this issue of enforcement can be very costly and then there's this issue of litigation begets more litigation. And then, on the flipside though, I mean you have negotiation where it sounds to me like this served as a springboard from improving relations between traditional adversaries, improving relations or perhaps dampening hostilities that had long been there. And, I mean, do you foresee this consent decree as perhaps serving as a springboard for other forms of cooperation in other areas."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it's important that we sort of keep it alive. One of the things there is from this is there's an annual meeting, executive council, where all of the parties come together to deal with issues. And we have issues; we have issues. We'll have members who push things a little bit. We'll have state game wardens push things the wrong way a little bit and then we'll have to, we have to work through all those things. We'll have disputes about what actually was meant by a sentence and there will be differing views on that and those are things that have to be worked out. But in the process of doing that, we have regular relations; we worked hard and we developed a level of respect for each other and trust that we could achieve, that we were working together on an issue. It wasn't just working against each other. There are times, believe me, out of these...these were tough negotiations, these were not easy. I mean every one of us at the table, every one of the tribes, the state, I mean everybody at the table at some point or another was the one who walked away, and then came back, but everybody got upset. You don't have forty-some people negotiating every three or four or five weeks or two or three days at a time...that takes a long time. So some of those days were long days. We had some 10-12 hour days we were doing this. And so it was tough, but in the end we got something good, and these kind of agreements, building these relationships help because our tribal citizens...I'm a member of Farm Bureau for instance and I look at...we have other people that are members of Trout Unlimited and all the other groups. We have people, lake front owners that are part of lake owners' associations. So our citizens are actually a part of all these other groups with whom we were dealing and we need to strengthen those things. We need to let people know. So now when we do a fish assessments, it's just as common to have the tribes and the state out working doing the assessment fishing on a lake all together because the state's in a budget crunch and so are we, we have our equipment, when we all work together we have enough to do a big job, but just by ourselves none of us really could do that big job all by ourselves. So when we're doing the shock boat and the fish assessing and trying to explain to people that we're not killing the fish, the mortality rate is less than one percent with a shock boat that we have, those are good things and it's good to be working together on this stuff. In the end, what we're doing is we're all working toward similar goals. We aren't always going to agree, but then that's part of governance. In fact, if everybody agreed, that's a little dangerous. You need to have that, a little bit of tension in there to make sure you're doing things right."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned the hard work that's involved with establishing, cultivating and maintaining these relationships. I'm curious, based upon your extensive experience in this area, what advice would you give to Native nations and leaders for how to build effective, sustainable governmental relationships?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Patience. One of the, probably the biggest thing I learned and one of the things that guided me is that eventually, eventually comes and that you need to work towards things. You need to be willing to work a little piece at a time. You need to have a sort of longer-term vision about where things are. I was out walking the other day on a path, and I was, I was looking up at the mountains and to my detriment, I tripped on something right in front of me. But if you look in front of you all the time, you never see the mountains, you never see the other things around you because you're paying so much attention right in front of you. You have to -- without endangering yourself -- have to be looking up as well as in front of you. I think that that's a part of the whole thing about this patience. You have to have a longer-term vision and the government itself needs to work through and think about those longer-term visions."

Ian Record:

"And doesn't that involve educating citizens because leaders? As you've often said, leaders are transitory, they come and go, and some of these efforts are multi-year, if not multi-decade to get the outcome that you've been seeking at the beginning and doesn't that require, I guess, a certain level of understanding and approval by your own people that this is a priority of the nation?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes. I mean, it's really important for people to understand what...like I said in the beginning when we looked at the constitution and I said the constitution is the method by which the people inform their government how they want it to work. The people need to always be aware of and remember that that is what that is and that they...so they need to understand where those things are when you have a constitution that has a focus on international relations. They need to...when you have your budget hearings, there need to be...someone needs to stand up and speak up and support that budget line item that's going to involve some international travel, some travel that needs to be done. When you have...you have to have...people need to be aware of how things work to know how to allocate resources and how to support that or detriment. One of the issues that I see across Indian Country that I think is...it's a big issue and that is that leaders who do a lot of this international work with other tribes or that are working in a basis across the country often are away from home a fair amount and that needs to be supported. But too often people think that those of us who are traveling are wasting tribal resources, that we are out having a good time, that we're enjoying things at the tribe's expense and that there is no need to be doing this anyway. And so when people are traveling often there is quite a pressure or a candidate becomes vulnerable because of being gone and traveling. So you have to balance that domestic program within your nation with the international program and you have to find out how to balance that, but with the people themselves, there needs to be an acceptance. I was recently -- after I had left the chairmanship -- I attended a conference and elected leaders were taking it on the chin pretty high at the conference over the days because most of them...there were very few elected leaders at this conference. It was almost all other folks: individual activists and former elected leaders, but lots of people were very involved in working on environmental issues, but...and so I, towards the end of the conference I got up and set my regular program aside and I said, 'Listen. You've been...you're sort of upset because elected leaders aren't here.' I said, "˜When's the last time you ever thanked your leader for attending a national meeting like this. When the last time you went to a budget hearing and demanded they put more money in there in the line item for travel so that the leaders could afford to go? When's the last time you wrote a letter or stood up and supported this outside external activity at a community meeting or in conversations in your family or things? You need constantly, if you want leaders to do those things, you can't complain because they don't. You need to actually support them when you do, that way it becomes a priority and if that's really the priority for our nations to make sure that we have this balance between domestic programs and international programs.' We have to have a populace that actually understands and supports why that is necessary, and it becomes necessary. Going to Washington, D.C. is critical for leaders because the U.S. Congress passes laws that effect...while they can't, their laws don't limit our tribal sovereignty, they certainly can limit how we exercise our sovereignty. They limit how Health and Human Services can deal with us. They can limit how the justice system deals with us. And so because of that, it's important for us to pay attention to those laws and it's important for us to know what's going on and to have the relationships necessary there that when we speak, we're not going just to build a relationship. We're going and we already are known so that we can carry through on the issues that support us. And there are plenty of people that are going there on a regular basis who are detractors of tribal sovereignty and don't support tribal sovereignty and who want to do everything they can to do away with it or limit it or whatever. And so we have to constantly be on target and work on these things and that's a very important part of that international because we're dealing with tribal nations to the United States, that's an international arrangement. We have to be very careful on how it works. So it's essential to do that kind of stuff. We also have to do that with our state government because a lot of the funding that tribes get comes from federal government, but it's funneled through the states, even though we'd like them to all have set-asides and deal directly with...so that the tribes deal directly with the feds on those things. There's a number of programs that go through the state and the manner in which the state chooses to set up its programs, how they choose to write their programs or write their proposals and their agreements with the feds can limit how they deal with tribes. So you're constantly having to pay attention to that. And you have people who, once again, would be supporters and other people who wouldn't, but for the most part you also have people that just don't know. And so it's constantly our responsibility to make sure that they do. And whatever mechanism, whether it's the tribal leader going or whether there's an ambassador, I think that we could... I think there's a time coming as we're evolving our tribal governments that we're going to actually have people that ambassadorial function may well be through an ambassador at large. Some of the tribes already have these. And I believe that this relationship with the other governments with whom we deal, we need to have staff people that can deal with that. I use an example, the recent arms treaty signed, where the presidents of Russia and the United States were together to sign the treaty. You know that the two of them did not sit down and hammer that treaty out. They had staff that were working for years on this to work together how to deal with it and may have met a couple times to iron out a point or two, but for the most part, their major thing was to have the photo op of them signing it and shaking hands to sign the treaty and that was the top of the executive functions there. And then of course it's got to be ratified, yet. Well, these are...our governments function in the same way. We have those same kind of interplay of things and...but we need to make sure that we have built in the ability to deal with other governments and that it's a very important role for our tribal nations."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to switch gears, one last question before we wrap up this interview, to tribal justice systems and specifically ask you a question about the Odawa Youth Health to Wellness Court, which your tribe established several years ago, which by all accounts has proven quite successful. I'm curious to learn more about why did the tribe establish this program? How is it structured? And how has it benefitted your community?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, we clearly have a problem that other communities have, other tribal nations have. As to why we have it, I guess that's another whole other story, but the fact that we actually have this problem with drugs and we have problem with the youth and there are individuals who just don't seem to be able to respond to parental controls and/or other societal controls and end up being in the court system; and the court system is basically a win/lose kind of system. We've tried to develop other systems that are options and this is an option and can be chosen by someone who is before the court, by the youth and this particular thing is based around that wrap around concept where we have staff from a lot of different departments. I think there's 10 different departments, but they are all working with one youth and their parents and all focused on one case. There's responsibilities on all their parts by bringing a multi-disciplinary approach to this wrap around concept we're able to see success with individuals we had not been able to see success with other programs. This has gotten so successful that we have actually had offenders that are before the local county court who they've offered the option of coming to our program and actually people who they didn't have to assign to the program at all, the local judges have sent people to our program and has been because they recognize the success of it. So this is another way of building an intergovernmental relationship, building community relations with various institutions with whom you have to deal in the community."

Ian Record:

"And this, from what I understand, this health to wellness court is not so much focused on punishment, but on restoring health and harmony not only to the individual defender, but also to their family, to their community at large. Is that true?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes. And I think that that part of the approach, restoring balance is important. And I think that's true in a lot of our programs, that's one of the things we try to focus on. And we have, when you follow our traditional teachings, that whole thing of being in balance is your goal, it's the center, it's what you try to achieve, where you're not at any one extreme. No matter how that extreme may seem, as you move towards that, you're pulling away from being in balance and so something else gets out of balance. So the whole goal is to try to maintain that calm center in order to achieve that. In our traditional ways, that's one of the teachings. And so when we apply those teachings to, trying to apply them to court systems, trying to apply them to our various other social programs, frankly I'm working on how we apply the teachings of the medicine wheel to our budgets. How do we take a budget and determine whether that budget is in balance? And I think that the way we spend our money, the way we allocate our resources, can be just as out of balance as any other thing and it can be symptomatic of we might be having problems in our tribal community that are inexplicable to us. And it could be because the way we're choosing to allocate our resources is out of balance. And so, to me, this is something I'm working on and particularly now that I'm no longer the tribal chair, but I have time to reflect on these things. I want to work on that issue and try to see how that can be, that idea can be furthered."

Ian Record:

"Well Frank, I really appreciate your time today. I've learned quite a bit and I'm sure our listeners and viewers have as well."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"Well, that's it for today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website: nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us."

Robert Hershey: The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Robert Hershey, Professor of Law and American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, provides an overview of what Native nations need to consider when it comes to the legal process involved with reforming their constitutions, and dispels some of the misconceptions that people have about the right the federal government has to interfere in what changes Native nations make to their constitutions.

Resource Type
Citation

Hershey, Robert. "The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Presentation.

Robert Hershey:

"Let me just introduce myself just a little bit. I'm Robert Hershey; I was born and raised in Hollywood, California, born on Sunset Blvd. in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital to...yes? I went to Hollywood High School for typing in summer school. I went to John Marshall High School, and the reason we had such a lousy football team is because our mascot was the Barristers. So I don't know if I was destined to become an attorney from the start. However, I skateboarded down the Avenue of the Stars before there were Avenue of the Stars. It was still concrete at that time and growing up in Hollywood as a young kid -- and you might think I'm only 39 with prematurely moonstruck hair -- but really I was born in the late '40s. It was a magnificent time to grow up and to be totally involved in a fantasy world that was very, very difficult to have any concept of racial hatred and discrimination, except when the African-American community decided that they certainly were not getting a fair share of things.

The Indians in my world were all portrayed on television and in movies and it's very important to consider the imagery of American Indian policy, how interwoven it is, because the idea of an Indian is a white construct. We use the term 'Indian and non-Indians' all the time, but at the same time it is something that is just made up. You didn't refer to yourself, ‘I'm Indian.' You referred to yourself by your name, you referred to yourself by your kinship, your family relationships, the nation you belonged to, the societies you were part of, but there's this whole fantasy thing that still dictates today American Indian policy and it paints Indian people with one long, broad brush. Every time there's legislation in Congress it's usually, it's a panoramic landscape of which it paints everybody with the same ideas.

So you come from Hollywood, California, and you find yourself going to big movie theaters that are 10 times the size of houses and you get a really different kind of view of where you were going to be. My grandparents had to leave Europe, they were chased out of Europe because they were Jewish. Fortunately it was before the Holocaust. They went to Cleveland, Ohio, then they came out to California. My parents met there and I was raised there. I went to college at the University of California at Irvine. I studied pre-med. Got tired of memorizing molecules and wound up in law school. I came here to the University of Arizona. When I graduated college at the University of Arizona from law school, I got a job on the Navajo Indian Reservation. How many Navajo speakers are here? Uh oh. I'm in trouble. I was hoping there wasn't going to be any, but we can share mutton together. My mutton story is that where I would go eat mutton every day, one day I was backing up to go back to work and I backed my car into a telephone pole and I still have the muscle spasm from that and that's from 40 years ago. That's my second mutton story. I worked for Diné be'iiná NáhiiÅ‚na be Agha'diit'ahii. So-so? How did I do? I did all right. Thank you. D.N.A. Legal Services, so I was a legal aid attorney there.

And my first experience, and I'd never been on a reservation before, but my first experience, because I was a part of the outdoor life my whole life, and my first experience on the reservation was I rented a house, actually rented a cabin. It was a one-room cabin -- no water, no electricity -- way back in a canyon off the road and the mud chinking was missing. When the wind blew my curtains on the inside of the cabin would blow. I had a two-burner wood stove. I'd fire that thing up, get that stove pipe going red hot, open the front door to a snow storm and I was absolutely in heaven. But when I first went there, my Navajo landlady, my landlord Bertha Harvey, she was about 70 years old, still riding her horses, still chopping her wood and she asked me one day, she said, ‘Robert' -- because she lived much closer to the highway and I lived about a mile and a half back in the canyon -- and she said, ‘Robert, would you...' She called me 'Shinaaí­' and, ‘would you mind taking my goats back to the pen that's next to your place?' Being from Hollywood, what am I going to say, I'm going to say I don't know how to do goats. I didn't know how to do goats, but anyway I said, ‘Sure, I'll do that.' And this one black goat who was the leader of the pack, his name was Skunk and he wore this big bill on him and he took off, he took the whole flock up into the hills and I chased after them and chased after them and chased after them and finally I couldn't get them to come back with me. So I slowly slinked back down the hill after about two hours and I told [her], I said, ‘Bertha, I am so sorry. I lost your goats.' And all she did was start laughing at me. And she says, ‘They know where to go!' So I go back to my house, walk back another mile and a half back and they're in the pen where they're supposed to be. I'm supposed to talk to you today about legal process. My first question, was that legal what she did to me? Then when I worked with the Apaches, they're real good jokesters and they do these joking imitations of the white man. Oh, when I left the Navajo Indian Reservation one of my Navajo friends, she put a thunderbird around my neck, a beaded thunderbird and she said, ‘This will bring you luck in your whole, white life.' And I said, ‘Okay, I got that.'

So I have been very fortunate and I'm absolutely amazed and in wonderment and as I said yesterday, I said, I'm so honored to be with people that care so much and it's been a 40-year commitment on my part to work with and be honored by and in this situation and watch the success of Native peoples. You may get discouraged at times, but look around you, look at the success of Native nations. I am astounded and so happy to be part of that and have based my career on being a participant in that. So thank you very, very much for allowing me that opportunity. So what's legal? Give me a concept. What is legal? Go ahead. I need a mic to give to this young man here. Yes, sir. What's legal?"

Audience member:

"It would be an activity permissible or sanctioned by the people."

Robert Hershey:

"Okay. Who else has an idea about legality? What's legal? Because we talk about legal process, we know...we heard so much about law, but I want to know what's legal. You basically said, ‘It's sanctioned by the community.' It's an agreement. It's an agreement. Who else has an idea of what's legal? Go ahead."

Audience member:

"Like a binding contract between two people."

Robert Hershey:

"A binding contract between...again, an agreement. Right? In reality, [it's] an agreement. Yes, sir."

Audience member:

"A treaty."

Robert Hershey:

"A treaty. A binding contract between two people. Anybody else? You've been talking about reformation of constitutions. You've been learning a lot about constitutions. This is something that you heard before; I'll reiterate. This is nothing that gets fixed in stone. This process of amendments you hear and you hear about, ‘Can we amend our constitution, can we keep it moving forward, can we start a constitution?' It just keeps rolling forward. It's as dynamic as your culture and as your culture rolls and rolls and rolls into contemporary societies that you've created, the constitution supports that and it gives you a greater understanding. Later on I'm going to tell you what I consider also different conceptions of what a constitution might look like. There was one comment that was made to me yesterday by a man who said that, ‘The treaty gave us rights,' and, ‘What about our treaty rights?' Let me tell you, I view things a little differently. Native peoples enjoy all the inherent attributes of sovereignty. Think of it as a big pie. You are inherently sovereign. You inherently control your own destiny. Treaties took away parts of that right. Court decisions take away those rights. Congressional statutes take away those rights. What's left is your inherent ability in addition to your traditionally inherent and aboriginal abilities to govern yourself. That's what's left.

When you hear the word 'sovereign', 'You're sovereign. You have rights of sovereignty,' do you know where that comes from? This is not going to be a federal Indian law lecture, but very, very briefly, in the early 1800s there was a series of three cases. The first case legitimized the Doctrine of Discovery. It basically says that the colonizing power of the United States could go ahead and be unapologetic about subjecting you into their dominion and control. They had plenary authority. The second case basically called you dependent...domestic dependent sovereigns. That's where that term 'sovereignty' came from, which over the years has also been my coin of the turn domestic dependent abuse at times or domestic dependent violence, but that's where that word sovereignty comes from. The third case involves, ‘Well, wait a second, if you are domestic dependent sovereign, then we must have some sort of a guardian/ward relation over you, therefore we have the trust responsibility.'

So since the 1800s, the early 1800s, that kind of relationship has been established and the United States then has taken away lands, it's allotted your lands to take away more lands and then, by the 1930s, that's when it passed the Indian Reorganization Act and those are the types of constitutions that we're talking about now. In addition to the Indian Reorganization Act, there's the Oklahoma tribes' organizing documents, there's other specific statutes for tribes that have organized in constitutional format. Is it all voluntary? And why isn't it voluntary? Because there was not equal bargaining power, there was a conquest, there was a power here and there was subterfuge and there was deceitfulness and dishonesty and saddled you with certain systems of government that you're still fighting against or rallying against today.

Now let me ask you this, and this is something that I would like some participation in, when we talk about the Secretary [of Interior] approving constitutions and having that kind of authority over you, there are a great deal of pressures that the Secretary of the Interior and the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and through the superintendents in the different agencies they exert over you. I would like you to share some of those stories before I go into what the secretarial process is all about. There have been cases where the Secretary, the agency personnel, they basically say, ‘If you want to go ahead and change your constitution to remove the authority of the Secretary to approve your actions, then you will either lose federal recognition or you will no longer be a participant to the benefits and advantages of the Indian Reorganization Act governments. You will lose that government-to-government relationship,' those kind of threats. In addition, financial pressures, can you say no to them? Are you strong enough economically to say no to them and carry on by yourself? I would like to hear some of you talk about the things that the BIA and the Secretary and the agencies have disclosed to you or have said to you when you've discussed with them the remodeling or the amendment or the reformation of your constitutions. Can somebody tell me some of the stories? Red Lake has its own history. Red Lake was not an IRA tribe. Navajos have no constitution. They've tried. Yes, please. Because I think it's important for us to share at this time the experiences that everyone's had with the Bureau before I get into the scope of what I think their powers are. Thank you."

Audience member:

"In the 1980s when I was tribal chairman, one of the things we became very much aware of was how ineffective and how not responsive to our needs the BIA was. We discovered some of the same things that Elouise Cobell wrote about and we made the BIA rectify those. When we saw how they were dealing with our land and how the land transactions weren't being carried out to the full extent that they are supposed to be, we decided to do something about it. And we didn't follow the same process you're talking about here today. We didn't follow like this very highly democratic process, but what the tribal council did was identify what we needed to do and that was to take away the authorities that the BIA had over us and take over the governance of the tribe ourselves because we knew that we had people who were much more capable than the individuals who were working for the BIA. We came up with the ideas or with the reforms that we needed, and one of the things that we figured we needed to do was to claim jurisdiction over all people in all lands within the exterior boundaries of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. And then we gave the authority to carry out those jurisdictions to the tribal business council. And we also went for a name change because the Three Affiliated Tribes was what we called...colonial appellation; it was given to us by the BIA. So we wanted to use our own tribal name. We wanted to call ourselves the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. After they drafted... after the legal department drafted those up for us, we went to every community, every district and showed it to them, we explained it to them. And I know you kind of poo-pooed that idea a little while ago, but it worked for us."

Robert Hershey:

"What was that?"

Audience member:

"Where we wrote out what we wanted, we took it to the community, they gave us our... to the communities, they gave us our blessing. They gave us their blessing and...we answered all their questions, we were honest with them and to me, I think the whole issue at hand was one of trust. Did our people trust us enough to let us do this reform? And by being open with them and honest with them and letting them know what we were doing and why we were doing it, when it came time to vote, they voted overwhelmingly for the changes. And that has helped us immensely down the road. After that we took over all the services that the BIA had. We took over the realty department because they were not doing a good job with realty and we knew that. It worked. These amendments worked out very well for us. I was wondering this morning when you were talking about that Violence Against Women Act and you were saying people need to change their tribal constitutions. Is there something within that Act that says we have to proceed in a certain way or if we already claim jurisdiction over all people and all lands are we okay with that already? That's just kind of an aside I was wondering about. But anyway, when it came down to actually running that Secretarial election, there were other things we wanted to do at the time, but the BIA told us that the people in Washington did not want us to have more than three amendments presented to our people because they thought it might confuse them. So we went along with that and later on we did another secretarial election to get other things done that we wanted to do."

Robert Hershey:

"And is your constitution still, the amendment process still subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior? If you wanted to amend your constitution again, do you have to have another..."

Audience member:

"We still have to have the Secretarial election. We were encouraged to leave that in there. One of the things I just want to mention that we found later on is that our...a number of our people, if things didn't go just the way they wanted them to, they kind of longed for the BIA again. And we found that kind of interesting because if they couldn't get their way with the tribe they thought maybe the BIA, if they still had control of the tribe maybe they would have let them have this, that or whatever."

Robert Hershey:

"Thank you for sharing that 'cause I do want to talk a little..."

Audience member:

"I have one other thing I want to say, too. If you're going to do this, you have...the tribe has to be the one to push on these. The BIA is very lax. They don't...they're not going to push things forward for you. We had a young man who was one of our tribal members, Ray Cross, and we had another legal counsel, Kip Quail. But Ray Cross, one of our own tribal members was very, very aggressive and he just...he pushed everything. It was always, ‘Okay, when is our next meeting? All right, when are we going to meet next?' And he was telling the BIA not...he was telling the BIA what to do. We didn't let them tell us what to do."

Robert Hershey:

"Absolutely. Thank you. You brought up a question that many of you might be thinking about. The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and also the Violence Against Women Act. They require certain constitutional rights, United States constitutional rights like the presence of a counsel, in order to go ahead and have increased sentencing authority or to assume jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases on the reservation they have to be afforded United State constitutional rights, not just Indian Civil Rights Act cases. So if your constitutions have a provision in there where you have adopted the Indian Civil Rights Act and made that part of your constitution and that has old sentencing authority in it, it does not provide...it may be a limitation and that may be something you have to amend to go ahead to keep in pace with the jurisdictional advantage and the punishment that can be meted out under these two new acts, so that may be something. Yes. Thank you."

Audience member:

"Thank you."

Robert Hershey:

"Anybody else? How about somebody who has a good story about the BIA? Raise your hands. There's a young man over there who's got a good story about the BIA."

Audience member:

"I am not a young man, but thank you. We had trouble in our reservation and some buildings burned and tribal council moved their meetings off the reservation under the Roger Jourdain regime. And I had a friend that worked for the BIA in Minneapolis and she called me and told me to come down. And so I went down to the BIA in Minneapolis and she showed me an order from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the time, there was a lot of mineral concerns that are still going on right now, but this was like in the 1970s, late 1970s and the directive from the Bureau of Indian Affairs was to allow oil companies and people that...companies that were looking for minerals to allow them to do that without informing the tribal council that the Bureau, local bureaus on each reservation throughout the United States, giving them the authority to go ahead and allow illegal coring and other matters that was going on. And it did happen in many Midwestern states. So I took that directive and I took it to Roger. Roger got mad at me. He said, ‘Where the hell did you get this?' I said, ‘Well, it doesn't matter where I got this. What matters is the directive from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.' I said, ‘This is what I'm giving you.' And it wasn't too long after that the superintendent of Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Red Lake Nation was booted out and Roger informed other tribal councils about that directive from the Bureau undermining tribal governments. And so that's a story I have about them."

Robert Hershey:

"Okay. Thank you. Someone back here too. Because what I'm getting at here is that there are some sentiments on the reservations that the BIA there is to protect some people from actions of tribal councils and they do appreciate that oversight, as much as they do interfere with the tribes exercising their own self-determination. So there is that kind of split...

...Not only is there dependence on this bureaucracy, but some people are advantaged because of this bureaucracy. And so when you adopt the BIA constitutions, how many people are living today that have not been a part of a BIA constitution from a government, especially if your nation was there from the 1930s and adopted that constitution? So these are very powerful institutions, so that your leaders that are part of the IRA government, tribal council, they wear the clothes of power by virtue of these forms of government. So you're trying to change that, too. Now I've worked with a number of nations in constitutional reformation. One tribe has been trying to amend its constitution since 1975 and they've appointed a committee, a constitutional committee, but we heard yesterday too there's some fatigue that sets in and that fatigue...and so you have attrition, you have people falling out. And I've been at council meetings where there's been a call to the audience, ‘Who wants to be on the constitutional committee now? Who wants to be there?' And maybe one person might step up and give it a go. But we've advised these constitutional committees and some of these constitutional committees think that they are in effect a shadow government. I don't know if that's been an experience there where they think that they should have the power. They say, ‘The council's not doing this, this, this so we're going to change the constitution to make sure that they don't do this, this and this.' There [are] other people that I've worked with that have been trying to amend their constitution since 1990. This is a long, arduous process. Please don't feel that you have to get this done within any quick period of time. Before I continue...Yes, councilman.

Audience member:

"Just kind of a question, if you can discuss or point out the state of the organizations for example like the BIA and their role is changing, but they have some changes that are going on like some generational differences that are being felt and also I've heard that -- Ben pointed out at the legislative level -- where younger leadership is coming in and they're met with these older...at the state level it's become evident as well. There's just a generational gap in the organizations. And how is that changing and where do we see that going because I...one of the things, the good things I was going to say about the BIA is that they just got emails maybe about five years ago, which I thought was remarkable. They've come a long way."

Robert Hershey:

"I talked to some of my students...I've had two students that got a job a year-and-a-half ago at the solicitor's office. They were...I'm very proud of them. They were chosen out of about 1,000 people, there were four jobs open, two of our students from the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy got jobs in the solicitors and I called them to ask them these types of things. There's still a climate of kind of hush-hush. There's still the politics going on there. Most of your experiences with the BIA are going to be at the agency level and so those experiences are not necessarily resonate all the way up to the central powers in Washington where you're going to get like a consultation policy from the Secretary of the Interior. Well, it looks really nice. They've done a fairly good job, but like all consultation policies, they're usually adopted before they consult with the tribes as to what a consultation policy should look like. And I'm going to come back to that in a little bit, but there may be a generational issue. But being youthful does not guarantee that you're going to have dramatic success. The youthful people on the Navajo Reservation in the 1920s are the ones that wanted to go ahead and start this process of exploration of shale oil development. But again, it's going to be your own individual experiences. Usually it's the agency superintendent levels that are going to determine...and those relationships I've seen have changed a bit to where they've been more supportive. But let me go on and talk about still how they make their determinations. Go ahead."

Audience member:

"[Unintelligible]."

Robert Hershey:

"We can't retire. I'm sorry. We can't. You would all have that experience. One second, sir. I want to get to one other thing. They've given me a sign there and I've got about six hours of material to get through. How many people do not have an IRA constitution here? Navajo, Red Lake does not. Sorry?"

Audience Member:

"[Unintelligible]."

Robert Hershey:

"It looks like it, but it's not under the IRA, am I correct?"

Audience member:

"[Unintelligible]."

Robert Hershey:

"So you still went ahead and had the Secretarial approval. So there are those kinds of constitutions that have not been adopted under 25 USC Section 460, which is the Indian Reorganization Act, but you've put the Secretarial approval language in your constitution, so you're still bound by the Secretarial approval. Yes?"

Audience member:

"With our committee here one of the things we were looking at is to...striking that out of our new constitution and..."

Robert Hershey:

"You want to know the consequences."

Audience member:

"Under the law, and maybe international law, would it still be recognized in international law because it was signed off, our original one was signed off by the government."

Robert Hershey:

"Okay. I'm going to get to that in a minute, the consequences of removing the approval process by the Secretary of the Interior."

Audience member:

"Does that include Red Lake's unique status?"

Robert Hershey:

"That would include Red Lake's unique status as well because it basically...excuse me. Was it by statute or was it by just an inclusion that you put in there?"

Audience member:

"Inclusion."

Robert Hershey:

"Inclusion. You may get some backlash from the Secretary on that; however, you can get it done. There's been some threats that I've been made aware of where the Secretary would basically say, ‘Well, you're no longer going to be federally recognized.' Those of you that have succumbed to those kind of threats, that is not true. You cannot lose your federal recognition under the acknowledgement process by virtue of removing the Secretarial language. What will happen is if you remove the Secretarial approval language, like I said yesterday, in one sense, in one sense that you could remove the language that's filtered through all the language of the constitution that they have approval: attorneys, they have to approve mining, they have to approve leases, things...you can get rid of all that language. It's only when you go ahead and try to remove the Secretarial approval clause, ‘amending the constitution,' if you already have it in the constitution, that then you would no longer become an IRA tribe. It does not mean you lose your federal recognition. Yes, ma'am."

Audience member:

"[Unintelligible]."

Robert Hershey:

"Well, it is related to the trust responsibility and here's how, and that's a reason why some of the BIAs, how they view whether you can go ahead and amend their constitution or not. They're basically saying, ‘We have to support our trust responsibility to you, therefore we have to have oversight.'

Now, for the Secretary to...first of all, in the materials you have are the statutes, the Code of Federal Regulations that talk about the process of what you have to do to go ahead and have an amendment. How many people have...if you've had no constitution whatsoever and you want to become an IRA constitutional tribe, then you have to have 60 percent of the members that are on your reservation petition the Secretary of the Interior to have an election. If you already have, then you get together the people that want to go ahead and have an amendment to the constitution or a revocation of the constitution and then you have to go through a process where you tell the Secretary, the Secretary has 90 days to go ahead and look at your amendments, give you suggestions and advice under the trust responsibility, approve or disprove and then you have to...if they disprove, then you have to decide whether you're going to go ahead with the election or not; I'll tell you the grounds in just a minute. And then, once the election is had, 30 percent of your voting, the eligible voters must show up at the election, a majority of which then determines whether those amendments pass. The Secretary then, if they pass, the Secretary then has 45 days within which to approve or disprove of those amendments. If they don't make a decision within 45 days, they automatically become an amendment to the constitution.

Now here's where the trust responsibility comes in, because prior to 1988 when the Indian Reorganization Act was amended, the Secretary was insinuating itself in all manner of decisions as to whether or not it could approve or disprove your constitutional amendment provisions. And they...basically for any reason whatsoever, and the tribes were really getting hung up. As a result of the 1988 amendments, the Secretary only has the authority to disprove your...if your proposed amendments are in violation of federal laws, congressional statutes, court cases. What the Secretary is also doing is they say that they have the authority to insinuate themselves into the approval process if your proposed amendments violate federal policy. And this is where that trust responsibility comes in because there's no standards that talk about the violation of what the policies are. They can bring anything up. Now this is especially acute in membership issues, when you're trying to amend the constitution in terms of...the regulations are given in your materials under one of the numbers. You can read through that. So it is still unclear and it is not demarcated exactly what the authority is. The BIA Handbook of 1987 is still in use. There are working drafts of later, of 2009 handbooks, copies that I've seen and they're really hard to find, this handbook how the BIA determines whether or not it's going to go ahead and rule whether or not something is approved or not. For the most part the BIA has been approving. The consequences of not being an IRA tribe; if you remove that language, what are those? What else do you have in place at that time? There are communities that want that certitude, that they have the United States government exercising its trust responsibility through the Secretary of the Interior and steadfastly saying that, ‘We have the supremacy of the United States government behind us because they approve what we do.' The Secretary has no authority to approve your ordinances or resolutions, statutes, providing you have not given them that authority in your constitution. It's only in terms of the amendment process.

Now I want to move on because I have a few things to show you here. Somebody asked about the United States, the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, some of the international law documents. I'm not going to run through all of it here but please, all of you should have a copy of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in your council rooms, in your attorney's offices because these laws are binding. Now there's no real teeth in them, it's not that if the United States Office of the Solicitor or the United States government in itself violates any of these principles, that you can then sue them, take them to task, but you can incorporate these principles within your constitution should you choose to do so -- I'm sorry these are not well written. I'm going to buzz through these because they're different -- but you have the right to determine your own members, you have the right to control your own lands, you have the right to make decisions about just about anything and no state government, United States -- and when I say state governments, nation states -- can go ahead and interfere with those rights as long as you continue to assert them through this process.

Now, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation; if some of you are involved in sacred sites litigation, holy place litigation, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation -- I'm sorry you can't see these -- just put a clause in there, it just came out last month that they're supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within their advisory council materials. This is an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] policy. This is just for draft. It says, ‘Do not cite or quote.' Too bad. There's another provision in the EPA draft that basically says, ‘that we support the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.' This is the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Rights; this is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, one of the international law documents, the International Labor Organization Convention 169. Your attorney should be well versed in this. In fact, on April 19th at ASU, the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Human Rights is part of a symposium at Arizona State University on incorporating these Indigenous international law principles into the domestic discourse. Native peoples, Native societies and nations in this country have been reluctant to embrace this because they've held so fast to the trust responsibility. This is the frontier. This is the inclusion of the Indigenous Peoples Rights in the new constitution of Nepal. You will see this. And in Bolivia you will see this. This is the National Congress of American Indians. They have a draft.

Now, I want to think about something other than what you've been talking about, these kind of documents that you try to embrace within a written, English language written structure and whether or not there are other concepts of how you formulate government. How many people have conversations about plants, about place names, about a certain site, about a mountain? What's the story there, how does that envision, how does that help you then translate into what's appropriate to be written rules of conduct? The O'odham here, they basically teach their children, or at least traditionally, they taught their children, they waited until bedtime and when the child was just about ready to go to sleep they would tell them in their dream so they could dream about what was appropriate behavior or when they would wake up.

There's different ways of expressing what a constitution may be -- a land management plan. This is the Poplar River First Nation in Manitoba and what they have done is that they've organized together, they've mapped out their lands, they have a vision statement, which you might consider like a preamble to the constitution. One of the speakers just before me was talking about land management, comprehensive land management. The constitution reformation does not have to come before a comprehensive land management [plan]. One may inform the other. And in the process of developing comprehensive land management strategies, I suggest that you map your intergenerational memories. You probably already have done that. You've taken the statements of your elders. You've archived them. You've protected privileged knowledge. You've put them in your archives, you've created maps, you've created place names, you've gathered stories. These are important not just for whether or not you're going to go into aboriginal title litigation or whether you're going to design a constitution, but whether there's preservation of language because all those stories inform custom and tradition that can be used by your tribal courts in establishing common law.

So what they've done here is they have the vision statement, they spent 10 years working on this comprehensive land use plan. As a consequence, shortly after this they worked in concert with the government of Manitoba. The government of Manitoba passed Bill 6 and Bill 6 basically set aside most of the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba as conservation area joining the traditional lands of the Poplar River First Nation. You can get there. Go on their website and download this plan. It's magnificent. This is the constitution, according to my colleague Ray Austin, Professor Ray Austin, former Navajo Supreme Court Justice. He's one of our professors. He's a distinguished juris in residence at our college in our program. This is his constitution of the Navajo Nation. ‘Mother Earth and Father Sky and the rights and responsibilities and the protections afford each.' He says he can go ahead and talk about the whole Navajo system of government through this. He incorporates the terms hozho, hozho k'e, nayee, other concepts here.

Emory Sekaquaptewa, magnificent Hopi elder, Chief Judge of the Hopi Court of Appeals, one of my most significant mentors, wrote about Hopi songs and ritual dances as being constitutions, as being the stories. So when we think of a written constitution, we ask our self, ‘Who's it for or to? Is it to show to the external world? Is it for our selves internally? Are there other ways that we can go ahead and express ourselves by virtue of mapping, by singing?' These are all constitutions. These are all rules of conduct. The Maya Atlas, the Toledo Mayo in Belize put together an atlas. I would have you look at their...this is something called 'Dreaming New Mexico' and it's not a very good rendition. A project in New Mexico that got together all the stakeholders, the Native peoples, the Pueblo peoples, the food peoples, the people that were bringing food in, the energy inputs, the ranchers, the farmers, people...all your community, all your neighbors and they visualized and mapped something different because we're all talking about ecological sustainability here in addition to the promotion of self-determination and sustainability of Native identity within your community. So you have neighbors out there as well. I'd like to hear if any of you have any other questions that I might be able to answer or comments. I would love to hear from you please. Kevin? No. Yes, sir."

Audience member:

"This has to do with citizenship. If you were born on a reservation, your allegiance is to that piece of land where you were born, correct?"

Robert Hershey:

"I would hope so."

Audience member:

"And so if you were born off the reservation then your allegiance is to the United States? Is that part of..."

Robert Hershey:

"Me?"

Audience member:

"Yes."

Robert Hershey:

"Am I allegiance to the United States?"

Audience member:

"Yeah. Do you have allegiance...? When you're born in Hollywood...?"

Robert Hershey:

"That gets...that's a political thing. I don't want to go ahead and cast a disparaging comment about the United States government in front of this illustrious audience, but I will if you want me to. I'm much more comfortable with Native politicians than I am with Anglo politicians. That might answer your question there. I've had many more positive experiences on reservations and working with Native peoples. It's been my whole career except for surfing and skateboarding. Thanks. Anybody else before...yes, I knew you'd come back here, Kevin. Give that man a microphone, please."

Kevin:

"One of the questions I have is all the IRA governments, when you get sworn into office, you have an oath to the United States government...when you swear into office, does anybody swear an oath to the United States government? That's one of the issues with the IRA for some of us. So when we swear an oath, even though I was elected in with my own people, I swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States because it's part of our constitution. That, in turn, we become a body politic of the United States government in one form or another. I want to talk about an issue with White Earth, but it involves the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe about the issue with the BIA or Secretary Interior. In our constitution, if we wanted to remove somebody from office, we have a process called Article X. And if Article X isn't heard by or acted upon by the reservation business committee, our tribal council or the tribal executive committee, then it in turn goes to the Secretary of the Interior for review. For the last 22 years, the four petitions that went to the Secretary of the Interior have all came back and said, ‘It's an intratribal matter, deal with it yourself.' In the issue that happened with White Earth years ago on a removal process, the BIA stepped in and let a person sit office early at the tribal executive committee with only two members to run a reservation. So the BIA stepped in and told that person they were able to do that by violating the tribal executive committee and everything that existed under the constitution. So I don't know if that...everybody else in here has to deal with them kind of issues, but we as the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, that's what we have to deal with. By the BIA stepping in sometimes and setting precedence or telling us, ‘No, we're not going to deal with it even though trust responsibility is ours, we're not going to deal with it, you deal with it.'"

Robert Hershey:

"Some of the things that they say they have authority to do is stepping on electoral matters."

Kevin:

"Exactly."

Robert Hershey:

"They do and they still...and I've seen cases of that right now. And they're very reluctant to do [it] in membership issues, which is striking because the Pala Band of Mission Indians, this case that just came out, it's a horrible, horrible case of disenrollment and the Federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit and basically said the tribe is sovereign, too. They had a sovereign immunity clause there. One other thing, if you go to the BIA website right now and you scroll down in their general thing and they have a pattern constitution you can click onto, just about the same as it ever was. So I suggest that all of you take over the BIA, start writing new constitutions and let's do it right. So thank you very much. I appreciate your time."

John "Rocky" Barrett: A Sovereignty "Audit": A History of Citizen Potawatomi Nation Governance

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett shares the history of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and discusses its 40-year effort to strengthen its governance system in order to achieve its goals.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Barrett, John "Rocky." "A Sovereignty 'Audit': A History of Citizen Potawatomi Nation Governance." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 11, 2012. Presentation.

"[Potawatomi language]. It's nice to see all of you emerging tribal leaders. That's wonderful. I like to think of myself as emerging, hopefully on a constant basis. I was first elected to office in 1971 as a 26-year-old whatever I was at the time. I was selected as vice chairman. I was named to finish a term and then I was...the two year terms back then. Then I was elected about seven months later for a two-year term as vice chairman. Vice chairman of what was hard to say at that time. My uncle was the chairman. My mother and her eight brothers and sisters were agency kids. We grew up...they grew up on the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] Agency. My grandfather was the BIA marshal then or the tribal...or the BIA police. And so that area...I am one of the eighth generation of my family consecutively to be chairman of the tribe. Back in those days when that vacancy came up, it came up because my uncle had been named chairman because...he was the vice chairman and the chairman had gotten removed from office for carrying around the tribal checkbook in his hip pocket and writing checks to the grocery store for groceries. And we only $550 in the bank and he used about $100 of it to pay his grocery bill and the feds got him. So he was removed from office and my uncle was made chairman, which created a vacancy in the vice chairman spot and so I was named to it.

And we went over to the BIA Superintendent's office. Now you've got to understand my uncle grew up on the Agency and the BIA in 1971 was the law. And he didn't believe you could have an official meeting of the tribal government without the Agency superintendent in the room and that the minutes of our meetings were not official unless they were filed with the BIA. So we went over to see the Agency superintendent and he was going to tell the superintendent that we were going...the tribe was going to appoint me as vice chairman. Now why, I don't know. But we go in and the Agency superintendent starts trying to talk him out of it and he finishes up by saying, ‘Now the last thing I want to do is hurt you guys.' And so as we're going out the door, my uncle turns to me and says, ‘That means it's still on the list,' to hurt us.

So I got the drift about then and, but...became the vice chairman and served two terms then I became director of the inter-tribal group. The State of Oklahoma forced all of the tribes -- the federal government forced all the tribes in the ‘70s to create inter-tribal corporations that were chartered C corporations or non-profit corporations in the State of Oklahoma. The federal government would not give money to an Indian tribe back in the start of the old [President] Lyndon Johnson program days. So you had to be given to a corporate entity that was in the state. And the state even tried to take 10 percent off the top of every federal dollar that came to Oklahoma as a condition. The issue back then was whether or not tribes were responsible enough to manage the money and everyone...I was the youngest person on the business committee. I was the only high school graduate; I was one of the three out of five who could read. All of the people on the business committee were smart but they were not educated people, but they had all grown up...of course, I'm not smart enough to know how to operate this damn thing. There we go. I did a good job of that, didn't I? Side to side or up and down? Ah, okay, that was the problem I went... I killed it. No? Ah.

But the Citizen Potawatomi Nation back then was the Citizen Band of Potawatomi Indians of Oklahoma, was the name of our tribe. The 'Band' was something the BIA stuck on us in 1867, actually 1861 when we separated from the Prairie Band when we were all one tribe. We tried to get Band out of our name for almost 75-80 years after that and finally were successful. We still can't get the BIA to stop calling us that even 20 years later. But we're the Citizen Potawatomi Nation; implication being that 'Band' is not a full-blown tribe.

But what's described as this audit of sovereignty -- we weren't that smart. We didn't just all of a sudden one day decide, ‘Oh, we're going to audit our sovereignty. Where are we sovereign? And where are we not sovereign? And here's what we're going to do about it.' We weren't that smart. We really didn't know what sovereignty meant. Remember, everyone on the committee, and this includes me, we were all children of the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Primarily, except me, were children of the ‘40s and ‘50s. You've got to remember what was going on about then. 1959, Senator Arthur Vivian Watkins of Utah chaired the Interior Committee of the Senate...Interior Committee on Indian Affairs and helped shepherd through House and Senate Concurrent Resolution 108 was provided for termination of tribes. The Secretary of Agriculture, who was also from Utah at the time, in the interest of doing something good for Indians, were tremendous proponents of termination and got it done. The McCarthy hearings were on about then and anybody who held things in communal ownership was probably a communist and that included Indian tribes. Yeah. And if you were an Indian leader and you didn't like the way the federal government treated you, it wasn't that you were saying that you didn't love the government, it's when you discovered that your government didn't love you is when all of a sudden things got rough.

And this was a tough period of time and everyone on the business committee, all five of us, were all a product of when self-governance and self-determination, that was the language of termination. Self-determination and self-governance meant termination. That's what they said they were going to do. And in those days you had to prove that you were going to be too broke and too incompetent to run your own affairs to keep from being terminated. If you had a business and you had money and you were conducting your affairs in some semblance of order, then you were eligible for termination and we were on the list. Why? I don't know because we had neither pot nor window. And it was...it was absurd that all the Potawatomis got thrown in there together 'cause we were down to $550 in the bank and two-and-a-half acres of land held in common, in trust, and about 6,000 in individual allotments. We were down to nothing and they were going to terminate us. And my uncle, listening to the Choctaw chief at that time who -- remember, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole chiefs were appointed by the president until some 20 years after that. They were not elected. So the Choctaw chief was a big proponent of termination. He believed that was the right thing to do. My uncle didn't think that we should be terminated but didn't even really know what we were being terminated from 'cause we didn't own the building where we met. It was a trailer that the [Army] Corp of Engineers had abandoned on a piece of land that the BIA had and they were letting us use it. We were pathetic, pitiful people.

And so when they started these hearings on Indian stuff and the outcome of it was Senate Resolution 108 and the Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi, Turtle Mountain Chippewa and all the tribes in the State of California, New York, Florida and Texas were to be terminated. Now 108 didn't terminate them, but it authorized the termination and then the BIA started working up the list. When I said earlier that the BIA superintendent said, ‘The last thing in the world we want to do is hurt you, but it's still on the list.' So, that was the mindset of our business committee and when I took office of our tribal government. Senator Watkins had the support of Senator Robert S. Kerr, the owner of Kerr-McGee Oil Company, to date the richest man who's ever served in the United States Senate and was the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate and coined the phrase what we call a Kerrism and that's still in use in Oklahoma is that, ‘If I ain't in on it, I'm ‘agin it.' And that's how he got in the uranium business. All that saved us was we sued the government in 1948 under the Indian Claims Commission Act and that lawsuit settlement was pending and tied up in the courts and if it hadn't been for that they would have terminated us 'cause you can't terminate someone who's in court suing the government cause it looks like you're trying to get rid of them to get rid of the lawsuit and that's all that saved us.

Very quickly, we came from Newfoundland down the Saint Lawrence River 1100, 1200 mini-Ice Age, ended up in Michigan, split from the other...the Ojibwa, Odawa, Ottawa people. We were all one tribe called Anishinaabe, we came into Michigan and settled. In the war with the Iroquois over the beaver trade they drove us all the way around the lake until the French armed us and then we drove them back to the east coast. We were in refuge in Wisconsin from the Iroquois attacks when the French, John Nicolet showed up with some priests and we helped unify the Tribes of Wisconsin against the Iroquois invasion and that group was able to drive them back once armed with the French connection. The French connection through a series of alliances, primarily inter-marriages and the inter-married French and Potawatomi became the Mission Potawatomi who became the Citizen Potawatomi.

But this area was an area that we controlled quite a large area, though it didn't show up on the slide, but it was a very large area around the bottom of Lake Michigan and then because we sided with the French against the British, with the British against the colonies, we ended up under the Indian Termination or the Indian Relocation rather, Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act and we got marched to the Osage River Reservation in a march of death along this route and the ones that didn't die on the walk, another fourth of them died that winter. My family survived it on both sides and in 1861 after the Copperhead [U.S.] President Franklin Pierce allowed settlers to come into Kansas on top of the reservations anyway without a treaty. We were on the Kansas/Missouri border. We were part of the Underground Railroad to help hide runaway slaves and transport them up north. And so we were part of the depredations of the Civil War from Missouri, a slave state, into Kansas.

And so we ended up getting out of there, separated from the Prairie Potawatomi in 1861, sold the reservation to the Atchison-Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1867, took the cash and bought this reservation for gold south of the Canadian River from the Seminole Reservation line to what's called the Indian Meridian that divides the state in half between the North and South Canadian rivers, became our reservation that we purchased. And we took United States citizenship as a body in 1867 in order to protect the ownership of that property as a deed. We were denied access to the courts in removal from Indiana. We had lawyers hired and people trying to stop the removal from Indiana and we were part of the group that was...the ruling was that because we were not United States citizens we could not plead our case in the United States courts. And hence the name Citizen Potawatomi was to defend the purchase of this property.

We came to a place called Sacred Heart. We had the Catholic Church with us and helped them form the first Catholic university and school, settled in Sacred Heart. We had a division over the Ku Klux Klan. We had a Protestant and Catholic business committee. Of course the Klan was as strong in Oklahoma and Indiana as it was in Mississippi and Alabama and it caused a great deal of trouble. The Shawnee Agency government in Shawnee where the Indian Agency was basically after the tribe was able to heal the split, we didn't have a headquarters after we left Sacred Heart. The trailer that you see on the bottom was a...belonged to the Corp of Engineers and it set on a surplus piece of property. I want to get a little larger version of that picture because it's so much fun. Car and Driver Magazine certified the three worst cars in U.S. history were the Ford Pinto, the AMC Gremlin and the Opel Cadet, and all three of them are parked right there. First thing we did was out of the 550 bucks, we spent $100 of it on that air conditioner 'cause it was too hot to sit in this trailer. The guy who got removed for writing those checks got drunk with his brothers and came to whoop us all at the first meeting and the chairman...I mean the guy who was supposed to succeed, because I got appointed he showed up, is how I got appointed. But he showed up to become the first choice appointee and he kicked a hole in the back of it right here 'cause this was the only door to get away from the impending fist fight. But it was mostly conversation, nothing happened. But that was us in '73 on a gravel road. That was all we had.

In 1982, I had left the inter-tribal group and left tribal office and gone back to the oil field and in 1982 my grandmother whose father and grandfather and great grandfather and great-great grandfather had been chairman and my mother's father and my grandfather also on his side had been and my grandmother called me up and told me that I needed to come back and I said, ‘I've already done my piece, grandma. You've got 26 other first cousins. Why don't you get them to do it?' And I got that silent thing and she scared me to death with that so I went back out there in '82, in 1982 because I'd had the previous history in office and as running the inter-tribal group. Became the tribal administrator in '82. I served until I ran for chairman in 1985.

But in 1984 there was a set of tribal statutes that were being promulgated by a now famous Indian lawyer named Browning Pipestem, the late Browning Pipestem. Browning Pipestem and William Rice, Bill Rice, made a presentation to us. Now I was the tribal administrator. The chairman at the time had a reading disorder so the way that business went of our tribe was he would go out in the hall and his wife would read it to him and he would come back in and reconvene the meeting and we would handle that piece of business. This meeting started about 5:30. It was about 1:00 am when Browning Pipestem and William Rice finally got the opportunity to speak. Browning Pipestem was married to a Citizen Potawatomi. He was Otoe Missouri and he started the meeting off, 'cause he'd been cooling his heals out in the hallway for about five or six hours, by saying, ‘I own more land than the Potawatomi tribe. I have more trust land than you do. My children have more trust land than you do. The area over which you govern, my family owns more than you do.' Well, it was kind of an odd thing to say, but I knew Browning was...he was a riveting speaker, and I knew he was going somewhere with this and he said, ‘You guys are known up north as the shee shee Bannock,' the duck people, because we were so good with canoes. Supposedly Potawatomis invented steam bending the keel of a canoe to avoid knocking a hole in the bough on rocks on rivers. ‘You guys are called the duck people by the other tribes 'cause you got around in so much active in trade and so much commerce and you got around so well on the water.' And he said, ‘Well, here's what sovereignty is. If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it's a duck most likely, and sovereignty is the exercise of sovereignty. It's not something that you get, something that you buy or something that someone gives you. It's like your skin. You had it, you are a sovereign, the United States signed treaties with you, 43 of them, all of them broken, the most of any tribe in the United States, the most treaties of any tribe. And they don't sign treaties with individuals and they don't sign treaties with oil field roughnecks. They sign treaties with other governments. You are a sovereign government with the United States and sovereign means the divine right of kings.' Well, he lost us there and he went on to say that...explaining that ‘unless you take on the vestiges of a sovereign government and exercise the authorities of a sovereign and recognize where you can exercise your sovereignty and where you cannot and what it is, then you're not. But if you do, you are.'

Well, for me the lights went on about then because the Thomas-Rogers Act constitutions in the State of Oklahoma, all the tribes in Oklahoma adopted the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act Constitution and it basically...that was back in the days when it was the fad, we all had to be corporations. I'm the chairman of the tribe and we have a vice chairman and a secretary/treasurer and we have members of the business committee, like a board of directors of a corporation. And somehow they thought that our way...best way to govern is that we would all get together in this thing called the general council that would be the supreme governing body of the tribe and that we all got together and everyone had an equal voice, the 18-year-old had an equal voice with the 65-year-old and everyone would get together and democratically design the best thing for the tribe, which is utter nonsense. Absolutely utter nonsense. We never governed that way in our history. If you got up in my day as a young person and had something to say in council, your grandpa would and could and should grab hold of your pants and jerk you back down and apologize for the fact that you spoke at all without asking the permission of your elders.

Of course our government, because it was a meeting...now we didn't have anything, we were broke. We didn't have any land, didn't have money, we didn't have anything but we could meet in the one general council that we had annually on the hottest day of the year and the last Saturday in June at our annual general council that convened about 1:00 and we'd keep going ‘til about 7:00 when the low blood sugar kicked in and it would come to blows. And as a result of that, we couldn't get a 50-person quorum. We had an 11,000-member tribe. We couldn't get 50 people to come to council. We used to have to get in our cars and delay the start of the meeting to go around and force your cousins to get in the car so we could get a quorum so we could convene the general council meeting. No one wanted to come and I don't blame them. I didn't want to go either. If I hadn't been in office, I wouldn't have gone. It wasn't government. It turned into a bad family reunion. That's all it turned into. And so the...what happened out of that, calling that government, was the more acrimonious the meeting became, the less people wanted to come, and the less like government it was. And it wasn't a government. We weren't governing, we weren't sovereign, we weren't anything.

So first thing that came to us is, ‘We've got to change this Thomas-Rogers Act thing.' The supreme governing body of the tribe can't be a meeting, and we could call special meetings of general council with a petition and 25 people could call a petition and you could get another meeting and get 50 people there and 26 of them could change everything that the previous one did. So one family could all get together and we could back and forth have these special general councils and we could reverse this and change this and chaos, utter chaos. So we decided to redefine what the general council was, if that was to be the supreme governing body of the tribe, it had to be the electorate, it had to be the people who were eligible to vote, the adults of the tribe. And so that was the first thing we decided to do, but that evening it ended about 2:00 and we all went home.

But the next few days we started talking about, ‘What does a tribal government do? What are we supposed to be doing here? We're getting a few bucks from the government here and there to try to keep the lights on.' We had $75 a month coming in of revenue and it kept the lights on but, ‘What are we?' So we got it down to three things: the land, the law and citizenship. What land do we govern? What's a law? So it was about three years and I got elected chairman in 1985. I came back in '82, I ran for chairman in '85 and have been in office since then. We've amended our constitution five times since then. One really major one and we have been to the United States Supreme Court three times, to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals seven times. We have been in litigation every year since 1985. We're still in litigation. I'm a lawyer's dream -- not one penny in tribute and millions for defense. That's not my saying.

When we talk about the land, how much land do we govern? Now we had that two-and-a-half acres of land that was held in common, we had about 60 acres that was in fee that was old school land and then we had about 6,000 acres of land that was held in trust that had a whole variety of heirs, very few people living on it. And you could fly over the countryside of Oklahoma on our reservation and here'd be a whole bunch of land that was all in cultivation, people making hay and raising cattle and then there's be an 80-acre piece right in the middle of it that was overgrown with blackjack trees and weeds and trash and no fences and crummy looking un-utilized piece of property and that was a Potawatomi allotment. That's how you could tell because with so many heirs no one actually owned it, no one actually used it. It was in the fourth generation of ownership of a family that was split up to where it wasn't happening. Plus the fact the government at that time, there was a big move that tribes that were allotted tribes that didn't live on Indian Reorganization Act reservations like most of you guys weren't really tribes and really didn't have a definable jurisdiction. That was before the federal definition of Indian Country.

How much land do we govern, what are our boundaries, what authority do we have over our land, can we buy more and will it become subject to the authority of our government and what's the difference between allotted land and tribal trust land? We didn't know that. We didn't know. We didn't know that allotted land was subject to the authority of the tribal government even though the only thing we had were resolutions. We didn't have statutes, we didn't have a code, we didn't have a court, we didn't have police, we didn't have the vestiges of the government, but we had resolutions. That's how we decided what to do and we could do a resolution that would have an impact on tribal trust land if you could survive the political outfall. We didn't know that. We didn't know that our boundaries where we could take land and buy the residual interests in the allotted lands was the original jurisdictional boundary of the reservation, the 900 million acres that we lost. What authority did we have over the land? We didn't know we had authority over anything. Remember, we thought we had to have permission from the Agency to meet. So it was the discovery and the inquiries that we began about what our land base was, what our boundaries were, where could we buy land and get it put into trust; we were told by the Agency superintendent that no individual could put land into trust. And the reason was that you had to be incompetent for them to put individual land into trust. And if you were smart enough to ask to get your land put into trust, you weren't incompetent. Catch 22.

The law. We didn't know we could pass a law. We were passing resolutions; we didn't know they were laws. We have a resolution, ‘We're going to meet next Friday and have a pie supper.' We didn't know that was the law. We didn't know a tribal resolution was law. When we enrolled someone, we didn't know we were behaving lawfully. We knew we had to follow the constitution. We thought the constitution was the only law we had and if it wasn't in there it didn't exist. If it wasn't in the book, in the constitution book, it didn't exist. How we enforced law. We didn't have police. The BIA had police but we didn't have police. We didn't know you could have police. We didn't have a judge for sure. The CFR courts hadn't even been invented.

In CFR, the Court of Federal Regulations, that didn't really start happening until about 1981, '80, in Oklahoma. Can we make white people obey our laws? Can white people come onto our land and shoot game? Can white people lay a pipeline right across our land and not tell us or get permission? Can they run cattle on these allotments which they were doing. Can they produce oil off of those allotments and not pay us? All of those things, we didn't know how to do that. Does the BIA, whose law...do we have any impact on the BIA, do they have to do what we say? Does the State of Oklahoma? And if we have laws is there a Bill of Rights? Can we pass a law that says that my political opponent needs to be put in jail for being a fool and is there an appeal? And worse yet, the big scary one, the word, the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the one word nobody wanted to use was can we levy taxes? Whoo hoo hoo. Taxes.

Citizenship. We knew we could amend our constitution because they told us that the only way we were going to get this payment from the 1948 Indian Claims Commission, the 80 percent of the settlement that had been tied up since 1948, in 1969 is we had to have a tribal roll and the BIA told us that the only way you could be on the tribal roll was to prove that you were 1/8th or more Citizen Potawatomi. Now the blood degrees of the Citizen Potawatomi were derivatives of one guy from the government in a log cabin in Sugar Creek, Kansas in 1861 who was told to do a census of the Potawatomi, the Prairie Potawatomi and the Citizen Potawatomi. And he told everyone that they had to appear. And as they came in the door, he assigned a blood degree based on what color their skin was in his opinion and full brothers and sisters got different blood degrees, children got more blood degree than their parents 'cause they'd been outside that summer and those were the blood degrees of the Citizen Potawatomi. There was a full-time, five-person staff at the central office of the BIA in Washington, DC, who did nothing more than Citizen Potawatomi blood-degree appeals, about 3,000 of the blood-degree appeals when I first took office. When I became chairman, it had grown to 4,000 or 5,000 and I was in the room when a guy named Joe Delaware said, ‘I have a solution to the Potawatomi blood degree problem. We'll resolve all this. The first mention in any document, church, federal government, anywhere, anyhow that mentions this Indian with a non-Potawatomi language name, he's a half.' Well, they were dunking Potawatomis and giving them Christian names in 1702, full-blooded ones. If you were dealing with the white man, you used your white name and if you were dealing with the Indians you used your Indian name, like everybody else was doing. And so it was an absurd solution. I told him, I said, ‘That's nuts. That's just crazy. You're going to get another 5,000 blood-degree appeals over this.' He said, ‘Well, that's the way it's going to be.' Well, that was the impetus for our coming back and establishing, ‘What are the conditions of citizenship?' And we stopped called our folks members like a club. They're citizens. And it finally dawned on us that being a Citizen Potawatomi Indian is not racial. It's legal and political. If they...according to the United States government, if a federally recognized Indian tribe issues you a certificate of citizenship based on rules they make, you are an American Indian, you are a member of that tribe. And you're not part one, not a leg or an ear or your nose but not the rest. You're not part Citizen Potawatomi, you're all Citizen Potawatomi. The business of blood degree was invented so that at some point that the government established tribes would breed themselves out of existence and the government wouldn't be obligated to honor their treaties anymore. That's the whole idea. That's the whole idea of blood degree and we're playing into it all over this country, now over divvying up the gaming money. But I'm not going to get into that. But the business of blood degree, the 10 largest tribes in the United States, nine of them enrolled by descendency and that includes us. We changed it from blood degree to descendency, which was the only reasonable way to do it because we had no way to tell because of this guy in the log cabin in Sugar Creek was what we had. And then we had permutations of that over the next eight generations that became even more absurd and Potawatomis had a propensity...we're only 40 families and all 31,000 of us had a tendency to marry each other. So when one Potawatomi would marry another Potawatomi, I'm not saying brothers and sisters or first cousins but when they'd marry another Potawatomi then you got into who was what and it was... And this business of the certified degree of Indian blood was ruled to be unlawful, to discriminate against American Indians in the provision of federal services based on CDIB. It's supposed to be based on tribal membership, not the BIA issuing you a certified degree of Indian blood card. A full-blooded Indian who is a member of eight different tribes, whose family comes from eight different tribes, not any white blood, would not be eligible to be enrolled in many tribes. They had absolutely no European blood, would not be eligible simply because he was enrolled in multiple tribes.

The other thing about citizenship is ‘where do we vote?' The only way you could vote in an election at Citizen Potawatomi was to show up at that stupid meeting, violent meeting, and the guys that were in office would say, ‘Okay, everybody that's for me stand up.' Well, nobody could count that was on the other side so everybody would kind of creep up a little bit so you could count. Well, they counted you 'cause you creeped up a little bit so you voted against yourself. So the incumbent would say, ‘Okay, everybody that's for this guy stand up. I won.' Well, that's not how to elect people. That's not right. Two-thirds of our population lives outside of Oklahoma, one-third of it lives in Oklahoma. Those people are as entitled to vote as anybody in the tribe, so the extension of the right to vote and how we vote and whom we vote [for] and what the qualifications of those people and the residency requirements of those, that was an issue of citizenship that we needed to determine.

So we went through a series of constitutional amendments. We redefined the general council as everyone in the tribe over 18, is the general council and that is the electorate, that's who decides all issues subject to referendum vote. Everyone in the tribe can vote by absentee ballot if they register to vote in an election. We established tribal courts that are independently elected just like the chairman and vice chairman and the members of the tribal legis...and secretary treasurer and the members of the tribal legislature and that the tribal courts have authority over all issues relating to law enforcement. We adopted a set of tribal statutes and we used the ability under the Indian Reorganization Act that we recede the authorities of the IRA in our new constitution to have a tribal corporation in addition to the tribal government, two separate entities. An incorporated entity and the sovereign entity is the Citizen Potawatomi Nation government. Next amendment was to change the name to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation from the Citizen Band Potawatomi. ‘Cause back then when you had Citizen Band, people would say, ‘What's your handle good buddy? 10-4. What's your 20?' Remember all that stuff that went on back in the day with the Citizen Band radios? Or what instrument do you play in the Citizen Band? That was the other one I used to get all the time. We changed our name and we went to descendency citizenship and we enrolled everyone that needed to be enrolled if they were descendents of the original families, 41 families that made up the tribe in 1861.

I issued an executive order that we would hold council meetings in every area, city or metropolitan area with more than 2,000 members of the tribe. And so we began a series of meetings in 1986 in Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Kansas City or Topeka area, Kansas City/Topeka area, Portland, Oregon, alternating with the Seattle/Tacoma, northern California -- the prune-pricker Potawatomis. We met in Sacramento, in southern California -- the oil field Potawatomis. We met in Los Angeles or somewhere, Bakersfield or somewhere down there. And we met in Phoenix, Arizona, for the rich Potawatomis. But we started having these meetings and we started going to hotel rooms and ballrooms like this one and buying a meal ‘cause we had a little money coming in from bingo and selling cigarettes and we started having these meetings and we found out something, that if you have a meeting and you feed Potawatomis, they won't fight with you. So as soon as I started serving food at the general council back home, never another cross word, never had another fight, never any issues of that.

But the revision of 2007...in 1985 was the big one. I almost...I'm out of time. We separated the branches of government with a true separation. There is an executive branch, a legislative branch and a judicial branch. We now have 16 members of the tribal legislature, eight from Oklahoma and eight from outside of Oklahoma. While it's a one-third/two-thirds population, the way we balanced that is that of the eight from Oklahoma three, the chairman, vice chairman and secretary/treasurer, are elected by everyone in the whole United States. So there is a nod or an impetus or balance given to the population outside. The fact that our jurisdiction, that the area over which we govern, our revenue, is all based in Oklahoma on the reservation is recognized by the fact you have to be from Oklahoma to be chairman or vice chairman or secretary/treasurer. Legislative districts. The whole United States is represented. We eliminated the grievance committee. The grievance committee existed because we didn't have a tribal court and the grievance committee created grievances. We had staggered terms of four office...for four-year terms of office, staggered terms of office. The old two-year terms of office where we turned over the majority of the government every 24 months, crazy. The legislature has total appropriation control of the money. But the legislature can't even answer the phone. It speaks and acts by resolution and ordinance only. They can't run the government ‘cause they can't even answer the phone. The legislature speaks and acts by resolution or ordinance. They appropriate the monies for a specific purpose, but the executive branch spends it and runs the tribe. I have a veto, I have 10 votes out of 16 not counting mine so 10 votes out of 15. And the BIA no longer has to approve our constitutional changes. Each of our constitutional changes took the BIA over four years to consider.

So that's where we are, that's the old bingo hall, that's Firelight Grand Casino. It's $120 million operation, we're doing $150 million addition to it now. Everywhere in our tribe we have these symbols of corn plants. Don't eat the seed corn. We do not make per capita distributions. We fund 2,000 college scholarships a semester, we provide free prescriptions to everyone in the tribe over 62 wherever they live, we do home loans for people, we do all of those things based on need, not actual checks. We believe we're like a family. No one comes homes, sits down at the table, brings the kids and wife and sits there and says, ‘Okay, I'm going to divvy up the paycheck.' They don't do that. They pay the bills first, they address the needs of the family first, and then if there's discretionary income they decide whether to save it, invest it or spend it and that's the way we do ours. But we consider the money from gaming to be found money; it's seed corn.

We bought this bank on a gravel parking lot. It was a prefabricated structure and it was failing. We bought it from the FDIC, the first tribe in the United States to buy an operating national bank. It took the government six months to decide whether to let the bank fail and break all of the depositors or let us put a million dollars in it and save it. They finally decided to do that and now First National Bank is the largest tribally owned bank in the country. We have seven banks, seven branches and it's $250 million back from the original $14 million. If you're going into the bank business, be a little more financial healthy than we were ‘cause if the tribal chairman has to go repo boats and cars at night, that's an ugly business. That's no fun. We had a repo guy named One Punch Willie and boy, he was a tough...he could steal a car in 30 seconds and I went with Willie out...Willie Highshaw, went out on the lake with Willie Highshaw, a great guy. We went out and repoed cars at night when people wouldn't pay us.

These are our businesses. We have a $50 million-a-year grocery business; we have a wholesale grocery business. We have Redi-Mix Concrete. We have a number of enterprises of 2,040 employees. These are our government services. We operate the largest rural water district in the area. We are retrofitting all of our facilities to geothermal, ground source heat pumped geothermal with our own business.

This is my advice: press on. Three steps, two steps back is still one step forward so just stay at it. I've been at it a really long time. I love what I do. I'd do it if they didn't pay me. The first 11 years, by the way, they didn't pay me. But plan. And once you get plans, decide. Even if you decide wrong, it sets in motion the mechanics to get something done. But indecision just locks you up. Fix your constitution. Don't try to patch around it. We did it for years. Fix the constitution. If you have problems with not getting process at your tribe and it's because of the structure or because of something that is happening with the government that isn't fair or right or honest, fix the constitution. If you're not in the constitution-fixing business, you're not in economic development, you're not in self-governance, you're not a sovereign. Thank you."