political representation

Verna Bailey: Making Self-Governance Work for Standing Rock

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Native Nations Institute
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Former councilwoman Verna Bailey of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe representing the Long Soldier District reveals the ins and outs of working with changes in a tribal council government.  Her experiences offer insight into the history of self-governance for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Bailey, Verna. "Verna Bailey: Making Self-Governance Work for Standing Rock Interview," Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ,  December 09, 2015.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Danielle Hiraldo. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us former councilwoman Verna Bailey. Ms. Bailey served on the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council representing the Long Soldier District. Ms. Bailey currently serves as a community member for the Standing Rock Constitution Reform Committee. Ms. Bailey, welcome.

Verna Bailey:

Thank you.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Good to have you with us today. I’ve shared a little bit about who you are, but why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?

Verna Bailey:

Ok, prior to becoming a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council, I was part of the tribe’s work force. I started working in 1960, retired in 2005 as a councilmember. I’ve had breaks in between, you know, but always went back to the tribe; that’s where my heart was. I consider myself a retired tribal employee more than anything else.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Thank you. What does or what did the Standing Rock Sioux indigenous constitution or traditional form of governance look like?

Verna Bailey:

Prior to 1914, as I understood it and as I was told, our people were governed by unwritten laws, customs, practices. We had a way of life that everyone believed in so that it worked for us. Decisions were made in a general council setting, participation was encouraged by all those there so that people can speak about what they thought was best for our people. That general council setting has been replaced through an adoption of a constitution in 1914. Like I said, people were encouraged to talk and this contributed to better decision-making for our people.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Who were a part of the general council setting? Were there specific members that were only allowed to be in that or is it open to the entire community?

Verna Bailey:

It was open to the community, as I understood it, but there were also people who were designated to serve in certain areas of responsibility who were there and who contributed to discussion, deliberating, and decision making. These were our Akicita who were given the task of keeping order in our camps. There were councilors, similar to tribal councilmembers today, who sat, discussed matters and made decisions for people.

Danielle Hiraldo:

And how were those roles and responsibilities, like you said with the Akicita how were they separated or allocated?

Verna Bailey:

Usually by the leaders and what they saw that you could do and best use your skills for the good of everyone. There was never any reluctance to do what was asked of you. I believe that if you are asked to do something and you felt that you could do it, there was never a no; you just did it.

Danielle Hiraldo:

How were the leaders chosen then? Was that still a part of that same system?

Verna Bailey:

Leaders recognized that they had to earn the recognition to become a good leader. They were seen by the people to be intelligent. They were seen to be brave, good hunters, good providers to the elderly, the widows, the orphans and people who needed help in camp. They possessed all of these qualities and the women and the men too believed that they could be good leaders. They held themselves accountable to the people. It’s not like today where we speak in terms of holding them accountable, they held themselves accountable because the people trusted and believed in them to do what was expected of them so that people could live.

Danielle Hiraldo:

How did they hold themselves accountable? By what means?

Verna Bailey:

Well, they knew they were chosen to be leaders based on the qualities that I just stated and they knew that the people believed they could be a good leader so they made themselves transparent. They did these things and they were not asked to or reminded; they weren’t constantly reminded that as leaders they had to do these things, they just did it because they knew it was expected of them. Now-a-days, we remind our leaders that, ‘this is your job, this is what you have to do’. It wasn’t like that in those days, the men held themselves accountable.

Danielle Hiraldo:

How much of the structure remains today?

Verna Bailey:

You mean from the traditional form of government or after the 1914 constitution?

Danielle Hiraldo:

The traditional form.

Verna Bailey:

Well, there’s been a lot of change. Maybe what remains of that traditional government is what they expect of leaders. They put into the constitution what they expect their leaders to be, you know, the qualification requirements are there. Back then, it was unwritten – they’re similar. They’re not evaluated to the point as to whether you’re a good hunter or not, but they know you have the will, the drive and ability to get things done. That recognition, I think, is still carried forward. So much more skills are required these days that we didn’t have any of that back then. Computers, who would’ve ever think we would have computers? But that’s what leaders use today to do their work, you know.

Danielle Hiraldo:

How do you define nation building and what does it entail for Standing Rock?

Verna Bailey:

Nation building… the Standing Rock Sioux tribe already has the foundation to build upon for a better nation. I believe that we need to build on that. We need to do better for our children, families; for our survival. Our young people need to learn what tribal government is. They’re going to be in charge some day. What was it the men had in mind when they formed a structure for the people? They need to know that they have to stay healthy. They need to seek higher learning and they need to work hard to create jobs and things to do that will lead to a better life for our people. So, I believe we have a foundation in place, we just need to put our determination to work.

Danielle Hiraldo:

As a former councilperson, what were some of the challenges you faced?

Verna Bailey:

As a woman, I tried to speak to the best of my knowledge what programs were needed, what laws needed to be changed and to make improvements in a whole lot of different areas. I served on the judicial committee, the health education involvement committees. It was hard. Sometimes the men resisted what recommendations women brought forth on the tribal council. A long time ago, the roles and responsibilities were divided among men and women, boys and girls. You know, expectations were different for men and women. I’m not saying all of that was brought forward into the present setting but still, it was hard for the men, I think, to accept the good of what a woman was saying to make things better in the way of laws, programs and that kind of thing. I know that there are men out there who will disagree with what I just said.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Yeah, but it’s from your own perspective. It’s your own experiences and some of the challenges that you had to face.

Verna Bailey:

It was hard to convince the 16 other members of the tribal council that something was good. Laws needed to be changed. Rules and procedures of the tribal council needed to be worked on and there were things that needed to be added. Like I said earlier, people held themselves accountable but now-a-days people hold the leaders accountable. We even have a code of ethics in our constitution and that kind of thing. The do’s and don’ts’s kind of vary in difference between members of the tribal council.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So, you brought up that there’s, at the time, a 16-member tribal council. Can you talk about how the government is composed now?

Verna Bailey:

There are 17. I said 16 but I was the 17th. I did not include myself; there are 17. Initially, back in 1973 there was a federal lawsuit brought by Philomene One Feather and others. Their claim was that it wasn’t equal protection under the Indian Civil Rights Act that we had two council members from each district. Some of the districts were more heavily populated than others and so they brought that claim into federal court. The judge agreed that the tribe had to live up to the One Man, One Vote principle so that required a change in our constitution. You know, it required taking a look at the numbers, the geographical areas of our districts and try to create a balance among the resident voters. That was put into place and it was further revised in 1984 and through that process, we kept pretty much in mind that equal representation. We have 17 councilmen and 8 of those represent districts and 9 others including chairman, vice chairman and secretary who are all elected at large. That’s the present system that we have. Compared to 1914, there was a quorum required of 11 councilmembers who were elected but in general council so it jumped. We still require a quorum of 11 under our present structure but just think, back then that was the same number to do business.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Since you brought up the 1914 constitution, can you tell us about what events led to the leaders adopting a written constitution at that time?

Verna Bailey:

My questions to people about how that came about, they thought it was time to put in writing some of the requirements on how they would conduct business and set up a system in which it required a certain number of people to be there to make decisions and that’s how the 11 came about. I think it may have been due to the unrest on the reservation about that time. People were moving and I think what they tried to do was put a structure in place so that people can be involved in the decision making but work with a smaller number of people. Now, I’m not sure why they thought that should be that way but that’s how the 1914 constitution was structured. It was interesting to see in the 1914 constitution that members of the tribal council were elected in the general council. That meant everyone. They elected the tribal council and created a quorum and allowed them to do business. They were even fined for not attending meetings but that was interesting to see.

Danielle Hiraldo:

How were the districts identified? Were they identified in the 1914 constitution or did that come later in amendments?

Verna Bailey:

It came about, I believe, through the 1959 constitutional recommendations. There were seven districts identified. There was the agency, which is Ft. Yates, the Cannonball area, the Porcupine and in South Dakota there was the Kenel district, Wakpala district, Little Eagle, Bullhead. Later, there was the sub district of Little Eagle, which was McLaughlin. Now some of the names have changed but they are identified within the constitution.

Danielle Hiraldo:

I kind of jumped around a little bit, but going back to the 1914 constitution…I think you’d mentioned a couple of times that there were certain things in the constitution that leaders wanted to make sure were mentioned in there. Do you mind maybe explaining some of those?

Verna Bailey:

Like I said, I think they wanted to structure a form of government and it could be, like I said, due to the unrest that was on the reservation at that time. But I think that people were moving. I understand that some people had gone into Canada, some had join other tribes to the south of us. They wanted to form a structure of government so that decisions could be made. They established the number of people who would make up a quorum to conduct business. It was interesting to see that as time went on. The IRA was approved in 1934. The Standing Rock voted in October of 1934 to accept IRA then later voted not to incorporate or put in place a constitution pursuant to IRA.  There is a provision in our constitution that clearly states that, “This is a constitution not pursuant to IRA.” When I asked why that provision was put there, some of the men said, “We must never forget that our constitution is not an IRA constitution.” Even in the 1959 efforts to amend the constitution, there were mimeographed notices sent out to the districts saying that this was happening. They notified the people that the 1914 constitution was changing to one that was being drafted in 1959. Again, I believe I have that here. Even then, the people say they put these copies out that say this is not an IRA constitution, this is outside the IRA. It seemed like there was an importance for people to know that this was not associated at all with the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act.

Danielle Hiraldo:

But initially, they did vote to have it, right?

Verna Bailey:

They voted. I asked some of the men, in their opinion, why they changed their minds about IRA. What they said to me was that we were being told what we wanted to hear about the benefits, all the good things that could come about by accepting IRA and putting in place a constitution, you know pursuant to IRA. Later, we began to become distrustful of the process. It appeared we were being told what we wanted to hear and the federal government was being told what they wanted to hear. It was not a good situation; we did not understand it and we weren’t sure if that was the right thing to do so we advised ourselves and our relatives and people to not vote for that. So they voted that effort down. So it’s not a constitution pursuant to IRA.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Had there been other amendments to the constitution?

Verna Bailey:

Yes, there has been a number of amendments from 1914 to 1915 up to the present. Right now, we’re in the process of looking at amending our constitution. There was a petition circulated amongst our tribal members, which was drafted by Chase Iron Eyes. There were four amendments to the constitution that he was seeking. The matter reached the tribal council and the tribal council enacted a resolution. In that resolution, they authorized a committee, a constitution review committee, including membership from the districts and other representatives plus the group you met on Standing Rock last week, to take a look at those four amendments and report back to the tribal council. We’ve gone to the districts and the people…I personally read two recommendations; one in the Long Solider district and one in the Running Antelope district, where they requested that training be held before they can even begin to make recommendations on what needed changing in the constitution. They felt that not enough people in the districts understood or even knew what was in the constitution. Tell us about it, tell us what these things mean. What’s in it that needs to be changed that you are doing this? If there isn’t anything that’s not broke, leave it alone, you know that kind of thing. I know that some of the other members have been treated very rudely by some of the members of our tribe who don’t agree with what’s going on right now.

Danielle Hiraldo:

From your perspective, what prompted Standing Rock to go down the constitution reform road? I know, speaking of last week when we were there, there were several amendments that were presented at some point in time, like 26 or 27 amendments, that only six or seven – I might be getting some of the numbers wrong?

Verna Bailey:

Oh there were a number of recommendations; I’m trying to say 33.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Oh wow, really?

Verna Bailey:

Not all of them, just a few of them, were approved to actually be put on the ballot. That was a comprehensive review. Back in 1981, the tribal council created a constitution revision commission and they outlined the work that had to be done by this group and trainings were involved, you know. Meetings in the districts were involved. The commission had to meet with different organizations, mainly the district councils to get their input on what they thought should be changed. There was a lot of work, a lot of contact. There was legal reviews on some of the questions that were being asked. It took a lot of time, a lot of effort and it cost money but the tribe wrote into their self determination grants. Two of them I can think of where they covered the cost to do this work. Initially, it was through the BIA budget team process that the tribe requested funds to take a look at an effort earlier than that and I believe the tribe received about $50,000 to start that one but things got more expensive as time went on. It took more time than they anticipated to gather all of the recommendations, to analyze them, to have the legal review that I mentioned before ever drafting a report to the judicial committee and tribal council.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Do you know what prompted that type of process to come about?

Verna Bailey:

Speaking about the 1981, from what I remember, people thought it was long overdue. They thought the constitution really needed to be looked at to see if it needed changes. Now, remember the term, ‘it’s long overdue that you do this,’ so yeah. I believe it was at the request of tribal membership.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So, what are some of the challenges that CRST citizens faced with previous constitutional amendments? Other than the time and that it was obviously expensive?

Verna Bailey:

Pretty much of what I said, there was a number of challenges. Again, training and getting the people to believe that what they actually proposed was going to be considered. People didn’t think that what they said would go any further than that meeting but they were documented. All recommendations were reordered and analyzed further down the road. It was hard to gain the trust and confidence of the people, that this is how we’re going to do it; we’re going to do it with you, you’re going to tell us. That’s pretty much what’s happening today. We’re asking the people to tell us.

Danielle Hiraldo:

That was actually going to be my next question; what are some of the challenges that you feel you might face redoing the current constitution, outside of the four resolutions that were presented by Chase?

Verna Bailey:

Well, our scope of work is clearly defined in the resolution. We don’t have any authority to go outside of what’s there but I do imagine that there will be other recommendations brought up in district meetings as we move forward. We are going to have to consider those and report them to committee. But, it’s outside of our authority to make a recommendation that this should be a change to the constitution. Already, the tribal council has taken a position that three of those amendments don’t require a constitutional change, that our present constitution and the ordinances that we have in place can take of that. If there is no ordinance in place, one can be drafted to take of that particular one. There’s only one then that would change the eligibility requirement in the constitution that says you cannot have been convicted of a felony. We’re getting a lot of comments on that issue. I’ve personally been told that that provision needs to remain in the constitution. Speaking of educational and eligibility requirements – not educational – eligibility requirements in the constitution way back when, one of the men, I believe it was James McLane who said, ‘We want the qualifications of our leaders to be in the constitution.’ We want these things to be in the law, the law of the people so that as time goes on we know these are the kid of leaders we are going to have. This constitution will probably stay in place for a long time; it shouldn’t be so easy to change. You’ll see that and we’ll see how people react to that and what kind of recommendations will be given to us.

Danielle Hiraldo:

What are some of the efforts you’re going to use to engage to talk about at least these four proposed amendments?

Verna Bailey:

Well, in our initial meetings, we haven’t had very many, we’ve talked about the scope of work; we’ve talked about the communications that we need to have for the district meetings. There are other things we need to plan for which we have ideas now on since the training that was provided by Jones and yourself at Standing Rock. Taking from that, I’m hoping we can come up with a plan that will work that’s involving the people, you know, working hand-in-hand with them not against each other. We need to come together on this and try to do what’s right.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So what are some of Standing Rock’s core values?

Verna Bailey:

Core values? Shared beliefs…let me put it this way. I was raised by a grandmother so I was among older people much of my young life and there was always advice, teachings to the younger people. Ill put them out like they put them out to us. Usually it started with spirituality; you cannot live without faith. From that there were other things that were taught. Ceremonies and witch prayers were offered. Valuable information on ceremonies came about through that. Then there was wisdom, you know, they would constantly tell you to go to school, get an education. This is a tool we need for survival. Later, I turned that around and used to tell my coworkers, ‘You have to know the reds better than the feds.’ You’ve got to learn those things, you know, because they will challenge you on non-compliance issues and so you need to know what they are. Approvals of certain programs and projects may be delayed because of some issue that the tribe can resolve knowing what they can do. So, that was always out there for us and patience; things don’t happen overnight. Take time to think about it, to plan and to work together so that it can happen. But remember, those things just don’t happen quickly or as quick as you want them to. So there was that. One of the other things that I appreciated was the advice; to listen to the elders and to the children, that there was always something to learn from them whether it be a school issue, you know, elderly. Maybe there are some things they can still contribute. They’ve got their minds and they know how we lived a long time ago and how things can still work today. Those are the kind of things we need to hear from them. They’re out there. Communicate. Like I mentioned earlier, they say talk to those who don’t say anything in public but be respectful. Generosity; don’t be stingy. Share what you have, share your knowledge, share your experience so they can learn from that and do better in their work too. Truthfulness; don’t lie. The truth always comes out, they tell you and you’ll find that it does. Honesty; be honest with yourself first and others. Don’t lead people to believe that something is going to happen or change or come about when you know that it’s not. Be honest and be visible, don’t hide. Put yourself out there so people can see what you’re doing and let tell you if you need to make changes in how you’re doing things to do better. Don’t look at it as criticism; look at it as something that they intend as something helpful to you. Sometimes that’s hard to do. Obey the laws. They’re not put out there just for certain people, they’re put out there for all of us so you have to obey the laws and our rules within our own government in our traditions. Obey them. Bravery; don’t be afraid to do what is necessary for the good of the people. You know, I think back to a time when I was a young girl. Two of my cousins and I went out to visit our paternal grandfather. He was not home at that time when we got there, our grandmother told us he was bringing a turtle up from the creek. So, we ran down to where he was and he did have this turtle. When he saw us he took out a knife and said he was going to butcher the turtle right where he was so we stayed to watch that. He removed the heart of the turtle and he said to us, ‘It is our belief that to take the heart of the turtle and to eat it,’ he said, ‘will make you brave. You will not be afraid to do something that you know you have to do which is good. Not talking about bad things, talking about good things, but you will not be afraid.’ So, he offered us the turtle’s heart, ‘Do this,’ you know, ‘you won’t be afraid.’ Well we were reluctant to do that but I was the first one to swallow it and my cousin Charles swallowed it, my cousin Alvida took it. When we were done I raced back to town and I found grandmother and I told her that my grandfather had made us eat the heart of turtle. ‘He said that this was going to make us brave, is this true?’ She looked at me and said, ‘Yes it is. That is a belief. You said you ate the turtle’s heart?” and I said yes. Well, she notified other relatives, you know. So when I would act up or my cousins acted up, they would say, ‘Oh, well that’s because they ate the heart of a turtle.’ Maybe along with taking the oath of office, we should offer the turtle’s heart to our leaders.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Well, that’s one way to incorporate core values. Are there any others? I’d like to see how many would do it.

Verna Bailey:

Yeah, I guess so. That was quite an experience, I tell you.

Verna Bailey:

You wont know of them unless you’re taught what they are and so I think that we need to keep telling our grandchildren and our own children what they are and strive to achieve them and to set examples. Too often we preach to our kids and tell them this is what you must do, but we never show them what we mean and practice ourselves. I think that its time that we revitalize all of that and for those of us who don’t do it to begin, it’s not too late. The core values will always be there so I encourage us to keep them and to teach them.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So Miss. Verna can you tell me how the district organizations came about? Currently, there’s a provision in living in constitution for district organizations, right?

Verna Bailey:

I don’t remember what year the provision was put into the constitution, I’d have to look back, but there is a provision in our current constitution that allows districts to create their district councils. They’re authorized to make recommendations to the tribal council, advise the secretary of interior of matters affecting them. The tribal council, pursuant to that section in the constitution, enacted a law, title twenty as we refer to it, was created by ordinance and it describes how you establish a district council. It provides for the officers, the planning commission members what their eligibility requirements are, what authority the district councils have – pretty much rules and procedures of the tribal council. It’s more formal, more structured today than it was a while back, you know, and districts are good about identifying the needs that people face in the communities and it’s good that they’re there. The tribal council needs that kind of advice to come from the local level and they allocate their own resources through gaming, taxes and that kind of thing to pay for their projects, their programs and administration. Most of them have district buildings that they operate out of, so it’s good.

Danielle Hiraldo:

What kind of authorities did the tribal council delegate to them? What can the district councils do?

Verna Bailey:

District councils can make recommendations to the tribal council on programs, projects…they can hire consultants to help them in this work but only with the approval of the tribal council. A lot of the stuff that the district councils are empowered to do still require approval from the tribal council. They are also empowered to create their own ordinances, you know establish their own curfews and those kinds of civic matters. They have exercised those powers, most of the districts. Right now, I think that district councils are awakening to what we’re trying to do here so I’m sure they’re going to have us come to their meetings and explain the procedures and the processes that we’ll use to go forward with the work given to us by the tribal council.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So do they meet every month too? Is it a monthly, town-hall type meeting?

Verna Bailey:

Yes, they have a schedule of district council meetings and we utilize that schedule to plan and go out to the districts.

Danielle Hiraldo:

For the constitutional work?

Verna Bailey:

Yes, for the constitutional work and we’ll continue to do that. It’s good to be out there amongst the local people.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So how are laws made and then enforced at Standing Rock?

Verna Bailey:

Laws are made when the tribal council recognizes that there’s a need to create one. At times, we may have a law already in place that needs to be amended. That responsibility is given to the judicial committee. The judicial committee, under the rules and procedures of the tribal council, have the responsibility of recommending laws and amendments there too. They would be responsible, they would oversee the drafting of the law and they would talk to people who are expected to enforce to see if there is anything that needs to be changed. Not only that, but the constitution requires the posting of a proposed ordinance for public comment for no less than 12 days. Once those comments are received, usually by the legal department, they’re taken back to the judicial committee for review and if they feel that a comment needs to be considers, they’ll do that and make further change to the draft before it’s presented to the tribal council. If there is substantial change to the draft that was sent out, it has to be reposted again for another period of time before it’s taken back to council. They’re enforced by the people who are authorized to enforce it within the ordinance. The tribe enforces, say like Title 20, they enforce their enrollment ordinance, which is a part of our code of justice; it has all of our laws within one code, our tax laws and those kinds of things our tribal council enforces. Our criminal section of the code is enforced by the BIA law enforcement and it’s done by approval of a resolution of the tribal constitution, authorizing them to enforce the laws of the tribe. Ordinances are structured and they identify who will enforce the laws. Tribal council doesn’t enforce everything that it passes; there are other committees that are created. The Chairman is authorized to put advisory boards and committees and that kind of thing in place, which he has through this current constitutional review work that’s being done. Ordinances require the establishment of others but they’re not authorized to do any more than what it says in the law. They are trained and they have to live according to or up to the ordinances.

Danielle Hiraldo:

You mentioned an ordinance on membership; can you tell us how you determine who’s a member or citizen of Standing Rock?

Verna Bailey:

I read that to the time when the membership requirement of the constitution was being discussed, there were recommendations to bring the blood quantum up to half; others said lower it. The requirement was one-quarter, you had to be one-quarter Standing Rock Sioux. Other recommendations came in saying that the tribal council should recognize all Sioux Indian blood and they mentioned Oceti Sakowin…so people asked, ‘Who are the seven bands of the Sioux?’ I think we need to further amend that section in our constitution to say who are the seven bands because there seems to be some confusion as to which seven that provision is meant to be. That is established by ordinance and it is in our code of justice. Right now, our enrollment office is located in the BIA offices so it works out fairly well for now but I think work will probably be done on that section in our constitution as time moves on.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Was membership or blood quantum citizenship criteria a part of the original 1914 constitution? Was there any type of criteria there?

Verna Bailey:

No, no there was not.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Just government?

Verna Bailey:

Yes. That didn’t appear…the enrollment ordinance in fact did not come about until around 1960. Prior to that, when I asked the older people how did you enroll tribal members, and they said all that was required prior to the tribe enacting its own enrollment ordinance was for a certificate of live birth to be transmitted from the Indian Health Service to the BIA reality and you were automatically added to the rolls. There was no membership criteria, you were just put on. You’ll see on the roles way back then that some people possessed a lot less than one-quarter degree of Indian blood were still put on the roll. But that membership roll was accepted as the official membership roll when the enrollment ordinance was enacted so those people were not dis-enrolled.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Traditionally, how did you determine who was Lakota or Dakota? How did you know who was a part of your community? Was it clans, family, kinship?

Verna Bailey:

There was…how shall I explain that? There was kinship. The women, I believe probably more than the men, kept track of who you were. That was another thing they always advised you was to never forget who you are. You had to know who your mom and dad were and what band of Sioux they came from. There was a lot of documentation in mind on who you were and they did not forget where you came from. In fact, it was in the early 1960’s, again I was in a room with these leaders who were men, talking about the different bands of Sioux. One of them – and they were teasing each other at the time this was said to me – they said, ‘Verna, you come from the band of people who used to hang around the fort; now, it’s 1960 and you’re still hanging around the fort.’ I told them, ‘Yeah and I’ll live here till I die. I’ll hang around the fort till I die.’ See, they recognized bands and where they were; they each had their places and the people in those bands.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So was that how the districts were identified in the constitution?

Verna Bailey:

No, not really. I’m not sure – I don’t know about how the districts were identified but later, the tribal council enacted the resolutions describing the boundaries of each resolution. That did not happen until much later. In Kenel, a district in South Dakota extends part way into North Dakota.

Danielle Hiraldo:

That actually makes me think of another question because you guys are in a really interesting situation where you deal with South Dakota and North Dakota because of your boundary and your territory, right? Can you talk about how Standing Rock relates to these other governments?

Verna Bailey:

Well, sometimes you will hear in conversations that that’s the North Dakota side; in fact, their constitution addressed it at one time saying that a certain number of councilmen had to be elected from the North Dakota portion of the reservation and others from the South Dakota portion. You still hear some discussion about the North and South Dakota portions of the reservation but I think that has lessened and when there were, like I said, the determination of boundaries of the districts that was done without regard to the state line. Like I said, Kenel extends into North Dakota so that was done without regard to where the state line was, which is good. We shouldn’t use that as a division. I believe that the people did not designate their own homelands, that was done by the government when it established the reservations and that’s where we had to live. If it were up to the people, there would be no boundaries but that’s how it happened. There were acts of congress, there were treaties that set apart land that we know as reservations today. I don’t believe it was the people themselves who agreed to that.

Danielle Hiraldo:

I’m going to turn back into the constitution reform part. From your perspective, what are some of things that will come up when you start talking to these communities? Outside of the four amendments, what are some of the issues you think that you might hear? Concerns about your current constitution.

Verna Bailey:

I think that some of the issues that will be raised but we’re not authorized to deal with would be membership requirements. There’s a question as to whether we should keep the eligibility requirements for tribal council membership in the constitution versus in an ordinance. Powers of the tribal council, they want to add to powers of the district council. What about the judiciary, they say? Is that a separation of powers? I think that’ll be discussed and there could be many other issues that could come up. We could report those but we’re not authorized to deal with them, the resolution restricts us just to four areas.

Danielle Hiraldo:

So do you see having to come back to the council for extended period of time? Within the resolution, you have a short time frame, right?

Verna Bailey:

We have only until September to finish our work.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Do you think that you’re going to have to request to have this extension?

Verna Bailey:

We haven’t talked about it. We’ve discussed what could come up, not in a formal setting of our meetings but we’ve mentioned to each other, ‘This one brought this issue up so I’m sure it’s going to come up.’ Those kinds of things are coming about but like I said, we don’t have rules to follow yet. We have to set a plan out and we’ll do that but all we can do is report to the committee on the things that we hear and it’s up to them. I don’t expect that we’ll be asking for an extension of time for ourselves and to continue us on the committee. I may be wrong, maybe the others have different feelings on that. We’ll see.

Danielle Hiraldo:

I’ll ask one more question if that’s alright with you. This is referenced to the plan; What do you see as your first steps for your plan of engaging the community? I know you said you wanted to go to the districts.

Verna Bailey:

Ok, again, I think we need to get back to the resolution. We can’t do any more than what was authorized so I believe that we will talk about what needs an amendment to the constitution. We have heard from a number of people that only one does and if that is the consensus and it comes to the motion of the committee that I’m part of then that’s how that will be. We also need to take a look at what it would require to change or delete the felony issue from the constitution. That would take some work, I believe in talking to people, getting out into the districts and drafting the language. Who’s going to help us do that? We have in-house attorneys I’m sure who will assist us with that effort. There may be only four amendments but I see a lot of work that we have to do to complete what is mandated at the resolution.

Danielle Hiraldo:

And you plan on starting with the districts and from there doing the training as you said, the constitution training. Do you plan on going article-by-article within the constitution training or what kind of ideas were you thinking?

Verna Bailey:

The Long Soldier district, the woman who made the recommendation said we want training on the whole constitution. That is to refresh the memories of those who have read it in the past and those who haven’t. It’ll be interesting work and I welcome that. I don’t mind another review; if it’s going to work, let’s do it.

Danielle Hiraldo:

Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s episode of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations please visit NNI’s Indigenous Governance Database website, which can be found at www.IGovDatabase.com. Thank you for joining us.

John "Rocky" Barrett: Citizen Potawatomi's Inclusive Approach to Citizenship

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

A 3-minute clip of an interview with Chairman Barrett describing how Citizen Potawatomi Nation created a government structure and constitution that worked for the nation's large and very dispersed population.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Barrett, John "Rocky." "Constitutional Reform and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation's Path to Self-Determination." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 28, 2009. Interview.

"We had to make some extraordinary efforts to bring our people back into involvement in the tribal government because we had some extraordinary historical events that dispersed our people, and there was a detachment from the tribal culture of 27,000 members. Nine thousand of them, basically 9,500, of them are in Oklahoma. The remaining are in eight, sort of, enclaves around the United States in California and Kansas and...well, here in Arizona there are about 1,500 in this immediate area. Where there are these groups of folks who have been two and three generations removed from Oklahoma, bringing them back into the culture and making the tribal governments something of value to those people that would make them -- or make them want to -- reassert their culture become a part of it. The tribe has to make itself of value to its people. And to accomplish that, you have to reach them first. And so this structure of government that we have now and that we have been evolving into since 1985 is unique in that it was, that was required because of the, this distribution of people of where our membership is located...The 2007 Constitution created a legislative body of sixteen, eight from inside of Oklahoma where we have approximately 9500 members -- a third of our population, but all of the tribes' territory, all of the tribes' assets, all of the tribes' revenues, and all of the areas, the territory over which it exerts governmental jurisdiction. And then two-thirds of our population are outside of Oklahoma, where we have for a 25-year period had a form of tribal consultation that we have promised would eventually be represented in the tribal legislative body, and have some input on funding and how the tribe performs its services. The concern on writing the constitution was how do you balance this territory, and assets, and jurisdiction with this population issue? The compromise was to put eight in the legislature from Oklahoma, eight in the legislature from outside of Oklahoma, and force a deadlock if the two can't come to a meeting of the minds. And that's basically what we have is a mandatory compromise between the interest of the larger portion of the population, and where the larger portion of the assets and the revenue is."

 

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." 

Terry Janis: The White Earth Nation Constitutional Reform Process

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this lively and far-reaching discussion with NNI's Ian Record, Terry Janis (Oglala Lakota), former project manager of the White Earth Nation Constitution Reform Project, provides an overview of the citizen education and engagement campaign that preceded White Earth's historic vote to ratify a new constitution in November 2013, and specifically the role he played in that process.  

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

People
Resource Type
Citation

Janis, Terry. "The White Earth Nation Constitutional Reform Process." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. St. Paul, Minnesota, February 6, 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 Terry Janis. Terry is a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and for the past year he has served as project manager for the constitutional reform process of the White Earth Nation in Minnesota. Terry, welcome and good to have you with us today.”

Terry Janis:

“Thanks, man. It’s nice to be here.”

Ian Record:

“Yeah, it’s good to see you again.”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah, yeah.”

Ian Record:

“So I’ve shared a few highlights of your personal biography, but I’m sure I left some pertinent things out. So why don’t you just tell us a little bit more about yourself.”

Terry Janis:

“From Pine Ridge, came over here to Minnesota, went to McAllister. From there went to Harvard for a master’s in education, University of Arizona for my law degree and several jobs since then -- kind of a balance between international Indigenous rights, land rights issues and broader national policy issues as well. So that kind of education -- law, law reform, policy development -- was a good fit for this particular job.”

Ian Record:

“So we’re here today to discuss constitutional reform”

Terry Janis:

“Right.”

Ian Record:

“a big topic across Indian Country and specifically, the work you’ve done on behalf of the White Earth Nation over the past year or so. As the White Earth Nation has worked to develop and then ratify, recently ratified, a new constitution, but the process has been underway there at White Earth for quite awhile.”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah.”

Ian Record:

“And can you sort of talk aboutcan you begin by talking about where White Earth was in the process when you came on board because as I mentioned, this thing had been underway for quite awhile before you joined the nation and its effort.”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah, they really started this effort of drafting a constitution in 2007 and it took them a couple of years. By 2009, they had had four constitutional conventions and came up with this draft. The number of delegates that participated in that process, voted on itthe idea was to approve a draft of this constitution that would then be moved to a referendum. That drafting process was completed in 2009 and it kind of sat there for a bit; I think part of the dynamics are complex. It’s difficult to move a constitutional reform process forward. The drafting process is critical and very difficult, but every stage subsequent to that is equally difficult and part of the issue was funding. And so a grant from the Bush Foundation helped them to move it to the next phase of really engaging in active community education process, move it then to a referendum, and then start to think, after that referendum depending upon the outcome -- and this one was positive -- to then look at the implementation process.”

Ian Record:

“Based on your understanding, of someone who is charged with helping to lead and implement that community education effort, what prompted the nation to go down the reform road to begin with?”

Terry Janis:

“I’m not from there, and because of that I don’t have the kind of personal insights or the personal biases that a person that’s from there would have. What I observed and the stories that I’ve been told is, like a lot of tribes, they went through a governmental crisis, a profound foundational crisis in the ‘90s with the 'Chip' Wadena administration; his conviction of embezzlement and how broad that was throughout their whole governance system. In reacting to that, not only did the people stand up in order to reassert an effective governance, but they really looked at the genesis of that: how did it get to that stage? And they immediately turned to the constitution.

And the conversations that you heard from that period of time, that were told to me when I got there, was how the constitution is so centralized in its power structure -- that the people, in power, can be dominated by a single person. And that kind of absolute power, in their experience, did corrupt absolutely. And so without any kind of way of balancing that they, as a reaction to that, they immediately moved to this kind of conversation of, ‘What can the constitution do to create checks and balances, to really have an independent judiciary and do those kinds of things?’ But I think that was the genesis of it.

So they actually started a constitutional reform process in ‘94, ‘95, ‘96. They drafted a constitution at that time as well and attempted to take that out into the communities. The stories that I’ve heard, both from the people that were doing it and the community members themselves, is there was just way too much tension still. They had gone through this amazing crisis. The communities were divided -- not just in two factions, but multiple factions -- so every time they brought this idea of a new constitution out into the communities, those factions and emotions really dominated the story line and it was just too premature. So they waited the 10 years. In 2007, brought it again and that’s where we stand.”

Ian Record:

“So you mentioned there was this profound governance crisis, if you will, that culminated in this high profile scandal. So they go down this reform road and in developing and ratifying, now ratifying, this new constitution system of government. What are some of the main things the nation is hoping to address? You’ve made quick allusions to them but”

Terry Janis:

“And I think that comes out of those crisis points. And what you see in this new constitution is a very clear separation of powers: a legislative body, an executive body and a judiciary. They clearly put a lot of time into that. Also the value of me not being in that drafting process, I wasn’t there, but you can see from the text itself that those parts of the constitution are clear, clean, deliberate and well drafted; that’s what they put their heart and mind and time and energy into. So there’s a very clear separation of powers, there’s clear establishment of an independent judiciary, they also put a lot of time into thinking about what it means to have a traditional government, something that’sin looking at separation of powers, you really harken back to the U.S. Constitution, which hearkens back to the Haudenosaunee constitutional form of government, but what you really get caught up in is it’s an American style of constitutional government -- the separation of powers, how they frame it, how they reference it -- but the way they do it is quite unique in the way of establishing mechanisms with language that tie it back to Anishinaabe traditions -- using Ojibwe language as a part of the constitution preamble and frame of governance, making sure that their judicial system isn’t just about punishment, but really emphasizes restorative justice -- engages the kind of most foundational aspect of the constitution in a way that depends on the people themselves to organize governance. So a range of different things that are quite unique that is really, I think, less controversial and more easily understood.

They also took on this huge issue of defining membership, citizenship. We all know or we should know about the way the federal government used blood quantum as a part of a military and colonial strategy to subjugate us. The ultimate result of that was our disappearance and that’s still on the books. And so they tackled that though with a very broad and dynamic rejection of blood quantum and move to lineal descendency. And that was a thing that came out of those conversations in 2007, 2008 and 2009. It’s part and parcel, very simple, very straightforward in the way the constitution defines it and it ended up being one of the most controversial aspects of their conversation.”

Ian Record:

“I think you’ve touched on some of these already, but from your vantage point, what do you see as some of the fundamental differences between the old constitution system of government, basically an IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] model, and this new creation?”

Terry Janis:

“I’ve talked about this new one. You got -- in order to make a comparison -- you’ve got to read their oldall of the IRA constitutions, but the MCT [Minnesota Chippewa Tribe] Constitution is even worse. And I’m not knocking MCT; they’re some good people, they’re trying to do good work with a bad system. But you’ve got to understand the history of the Indian Reorganization Act, its shift away from allotment; it ended the allotment process, which on its face is a very positive thing, but what this country was at that period of time, after the Great Depression, just before World War II, was all about assimilation. It wasn’t about recognizing the strength and sovereignty of Indian nations, it was about making Indian people white.

And the constitutions that came out of the Indian Reorganization Act, this model constitution that they had, the primary purpose of that was to make things easier for the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- their colonial objectives, their oversight, their kind of attitudes of superiority in having a trust responsibility towards Indian people actually owning Indian land, and Indian people having to ask for permission for using everything. These constitutions have at least a dozen, the MCT constitution has almost 30 specific places where before the tribe can do anything, they have to ask for permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and it’s in their constitution. And so that’s their starting point.

And it establishes a mechanism where, for example, even though White Earth has the majority of the population, they’ve set up a governance structure in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe where each of the separate bands is represented by two individuals on their governance structure. And so White Earth has over 50 percent of the population almost; they only have two votes out of 12. It is completely unrepresentative. There is no government in the world that would allow that kind of unrepresentative form of government and they accept it. It’s what they were forced to take up. The Bureau of Indian Affairs wrote their constitution for them. There’s no story or history or genesis of the language of this constitution coming out of Indian minds. It was the Bureau of Indian Affairs that wrote it, put all of these tribes together under one body so they didn’t have to build relationships with six separate tribes. They only had to deal with one entity.

So this is as colonial a system as you can imagine and me coming from the outside, I’m shocked honestly that they find a way to make it work, every day. But that’s where it’s coming from and having that conversation, and engaging that conversation as a part of this conversation, was a part of everything that we put together as well.”

Ian Record:

“Let me follow up on that. This is not part of our original questions, but this is something that I see come up in so many tribes I work with on the issue of constitutions and constitutional reform is...you’ve just shared with us a pretty deep knowledge of the genesis of, until recently, what was the law of the land for the White Earth people. And so often when these tribes struggle with this issue of, ‘Our constitution is inadequate. We pretty much understand we need to change it.’ It’s a whole other question of, ‘How do we do it?’ But a lot of folks contemplate reform without a full working knowledge of, ‘Where did our specific constitution come from? Did our own people have any meaningful say in its creation? Did they have any meaningful sense of ownership in this apparatus that they now use to make decisions and try to live as a nation?’ And how important is it for other tribes -- if people are going to look at White Earth as an example -- how important is it for other tribes to understand that historical context when they tackle the question of, ‘Do we need to change our current constitution and how?’”

Terry Janis:

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s all that important. At the end of the day, it’s relatively irrelevant because when you get to this scale of change, what you really have to have a deep understanding of is politics, power and change.

Politics is important. Who has what political source, where does it come from, how did they engage and develop it? In order to engage at this scale, you have to have a deep respect for politics, you have to understand the politics that’s happening in that community at the local level and a broader level that affects it. When you look at process of change, you’re going to recognize that some people are gaining, are benefiting from the current system and other people will gain or benefit from the change. And so you have to recognize where those tensions are going to come from, where’s the push-back going to come from, and you have to respect that and honor that and deal with it in a very real and dynamic sort of way.

And then that’s the process of change, the engagement of it. Whenever there is a compelling reason for change, like in White Earth -- the constitutional crisis in the ‘90s, history of where the constitution that they’re working under comes from, and how it contributed to the disaster that they just went through -- is an important part of what pushes and sustains. And that’s important, that has to be there, but in order to actually for change to actually occur, you’ve got to deal with the reality of politics and power and that is all a part of the conversation. Some of it is one-to-one information sharing education process, others are very practical sitting down and trading realities. ‘You’re going to lose this. Your people are going to gain that. How important is it that your people gain even though you may personally lose in certain ways?’ And you just deal with that in a very real sort of way.

The leadership at White Earth, at Bois Forte, at all of the MCT bands, are the same as the leadership in any other Indian nations; they’re practical, they’re very realistic and they’re in it as a life issue. And I didn’t say life and death. They’re in it as a life issue. Our leaders are politicians from that life perspective, but whenever you start to challenge them to give up, or this is going to be taken away -- this thing that has benefited you and your family -- that has to be an open conversation. It has to be a real conversation and you have to honor their integrity, their respect, and their ability to come to a decision that not only helps them to deal with the practical realities, but also fits with their integrity.”

Ian Record:

“In the point you just made, doesn’t that argue for tribes ensuring that they develop a reform process that is distinctly theirs and that distinctly attends to their own local dynamics, as you laid out?”

Terry Janis:

“Absolutely. You cannot do it any other way. And there’sin this situation -- having me as an outsider come in -- there’s value in me being able to say, ‘I don’t care what you do. I didn’t draft this thing. I have noof my own self into it at all. What matters to me is you, as the people, make your own choice. Do you realize the power that you have? That’s what matters to me.’ So me coming in with that kind of outsider perspective, and also coming in with the history of really fighting for and having some losses and successes in supporting tribal sovereignty, that was the base. And we can have those conversations, and they could insult Erma Vizenor or the elected leadership and everybody else, and I’ll sit there and I’ll nod my head and I’ll let them give voice to that, and then we’ll try to turn to a deeper understanding of what this constitution says and the changes that it incurs. And without that conversation, without having the ability to sit through the emotions, and the local history that’s there, and understand it and take it in, and then incorporate that into a conversation about, ‘Look at the text of this language.’ And so all of those things are local, they’re about that local community, they’re about the people that are there and their personal histories and stories.”

Ian Record:

“I want to follow up a bit on this issue of power and politics that you mentioned. My sense in working with a number of tribes on reform is that yes, that is a huge dynamic that you have to wrestle with and that the approach that you develop in response to that has to be local, it has to be unique to that tribe, and it has to attend to those unique circumstances, but isn’t part of it also dealing with the reality and developing a process that deals with the reality? That, in many times when you’re dealing with fundamental sort of foundational change like constitutional reform, often entailsif you’re going beyond pro forma type amendments and really dealing with substantive constitutional change, you’re often asking the people of the nation to put up a mirror in front, and [to] look in the mirror not just as an individual citizen, but as a collective group and say, ‘Who are we, how do we want to govern, and what do we want our future to look like?’ And often that involves confronting a lot of colonial trauma, a lot of historical trauma, and that tends to contribute to a very organic and sort of messy process that you have to be ready for, does it not?”

Terry Janis:

“Right, absolutely, absolutely. And the fact that I can tell you with some of the folks that I’ve had conversations, how far spittle travels between you and that other person because that’s how pissed off they are and emotional, and that kind of anger and anguish and frustration and fear is very real. Me coming into this as an outsider with absolute respect for the sovereignty of an Indian nation -- and when you’re dealing with the fact that this constitution is going to move to a referendum vote -- that sovereignty lies within each individual. And so my job is to absolutely respect where that person is and where that person can move to. I can have a conversation with somebody about the colonial dynamics of the MCT constitution. If they say, ‘I cannot accept the idea of defining me as a 'citizen' or defining the White Earth Tribe as a 'nation,' we are a 'band,' I am a 'member,'‘ they insist on that over and over and over, my job is not, as an academic, to know better than them and say, ‘You’re wrong.’ My job is to say, ‘Okay. This is your choice. You are the sovereign here. Your vote is all that matters. Your decision and your opinion is all that matters. I respect that a hundred percent.’”

Ian Record:

“So then didn’t your challenge then become, in respecting their ability to choose, and that’s ultimately what self determination’s all about, that your job then became, ‘how do I make sure that they, when they do choose, that they’re making as an informed choice as possible in that they understand fully what this constitution says and more importantly what this constitution will do in terms of structuring how the government actually works and how it makes decisions, how it carries out decisions, etc.’?”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah, yeah. If you think about how Indian people come together and we talk, we learn things as much from laughter as from serious conversation. We learn things as much from getting into a fight and getting a bloody nose as we do by reading a text together side by side. And so that is a multi-faceted dynamic of the process, Indian people coming together and learning this kind of document, this kind of resource materials, this kind of system, systemic construct, it’s really complex.

The White Earth constitution is amazingly complex, how they all fit together and flow together; you are not going to achieve full understanding, period. What I realized is that each person is going to need a certain level of understanding in order to come to their own decision point and that’s my job, is they know how much they need to understand and I’m going to keep pushing everything at them with every vehicle and mechanism that I can. Whenever we came in and designed the educational strategy, there wasn’t going to be just one event in every community and the national symposium. We were going to have dozens. We ended up having over 50 across every single community, a national symposium, multi-media resources, videos, radio turned out to be incredibly important with Niijii Radio and other radio interviews and individual conversations, follow up with thousands of individuals, taking the time to have all of those conversations in as many ways as possible, talking with folks over dinner, over breakfast, in their houses, on the street, wherever. And so that’s just how we are. We as Indian people, we learn in a certain way and if you’re comfortable with that, if you can engage that, if you can get with that, then there’s the potential that you’re going to make the offerings and people are going to come at them in the way that they can come at them.

I never expected to find perfect understanding. The more I got into it, the more I realized I don’t have perfect understanding. There are so many nuances to this stuff that a relationship between this person and that person as a drafter, as an editor, as a voter was a much more complex and real sort of dynamic as well, but having respect for the sovereignty of the individual to make this decision because that’s where it really lies in a referendum, as well as the learning process of us as Indian people. It’s personal and being able to do that and willing to do that and enjoying doing that.”

Ian Record:

“Was part of your challenge trying to sit down in a community session or via multi-media and the many different tools and strategies and approaches you took, but was part of the challenge getting people to care about the role of the constitution in their lives? To say, ‘Okay, basically this current constitution we have, this is how it impacts you as a citizen. This new constitution we’ve drafted, this is how it will change the nation, this is how it will change the, potentially change the community, this is how it will change the role that you can play in the governance of the nation.’ And you talked about making it personal -- is that not part of the challenge?”

Terry Janis:

It’s definitely part of it. It’s not so much how do you get them to care. Again, it’swe’re Indian people, and in my experience, we care deeply; we just do. The question is, ‘What do we care about?’ And so that was the issue, trying to figure out what this person cares about or if it’s a group of five or 20 or 100 or 200, what is the sense of what they care about and then how do you take that and share the information about the text of this constitution, how it changes things and what it will mean? How do you then tie that into what they care about because it is tribal politics, and so much of that is personal? It’s going to be, ‘This person is an elected leader and I hate him or her. She did this or he did that,’ and that is a very real sense of care and is very personal and it’s got nothing to do with me, but it has everything to do with this educational process on this constitution. And so people that are working within their own tribal communities and try to engage an educational process about constitutional reform, you have to respect that, that somebody cares about this thing and that does tie into their ability to learn about the constitution. And as an educator, that’s what makes a quality teacher is finding a way to tie that in so that you’re using that person’s energy, what they care about, to help learn about this thing. Every teacher, every quality teacher that is perceived of as being a good teacher, that’s what makes them good. It’s just normal education. This is not new stuff. This is not unique stuff. In order to do this well, you need good educators and you need people that are grounded in tribal sovereignty.”

Ian Record:

“And ideally grounded or at least understanding of the community, right? As you mentioned and sort of the dynamics and the”

Terry Janis:

“Absolutely, absolutely.”

Ian Record:

“So you made reference to this a little bit earlier in discussing the new constitution and how different it is from its predecessor and how different it is from anything that the United States government would ever conceive of. From your perspective as an outsider, can you share with us some of the things that are contained in this new constitution that are distinctly Anishinaabe, that advance Anishinaabe values, that reflect Anishinaabe culture, governance principles? For instance, you made reference to restorative justice and the use of language and things like that.”

Terry Janis:

“I’m not Anishinaabe and I can’tI cannot communicate that from that perspective. What I can do is say that the preamble uses Anishinaabe language and that is referenced throughout the constitution. The judicial system places a very real emphasis on restorative justice rather than the punishment model of a judiciary. That language ‘restorative justice’ is not in Indian language, but the heart of it, the substance of it, that is all Indian, whether it’s Anishinaabe or Lakota or whatever, that is about that community and the way they’re going to implement it is going to be all Anishinaabe, it’s going to be all Ojibwe.

Whenever you look at...the constitution allows or provides for, requires, three advisory bodies, formal advisory bodies that have direct advisory responsibility to the legislative council and the office of the president, an elder’s council, a youth council and a community council. The constitution establishes them specifically and it states specifically certain aspects of Anishinaabe culture and tradition that that elder council is responsible to give advice to the legislative body and the president on. You don’t see that in other constitutions, period. So it structurally establishes a mechanism for that to be in there, but it also, at the same time, is an advisory body. So it’s not a full shift over to a traditional model of governance where the chiefs are making decisions in that process. It’s a unique sort of mechanism in that regard.

The last one that I think is most unique is if you think about a governance, you’re really talking about the ability of a representative to truly represent their community. That’s where so much of the gap is. In this country, what is the percentage of American population, voting age population that actually votes? It’s a huge gap because the representatives that we can vote on to represent us don’t represent us. Here, in this constitution, the people themselves organize their own voting districts. They are responsible for organizing those voting districts and if they’re the ones that have to carry that burden, there’s a greater potential that they’re going to organize the voting districts that actually mean something to them and if it does, then they’re going to select a person to represent them and then there’s that connect. That is f*cking awesome. It really is. And it is so problematic. How do you actually implement that? Nobody’s ever done that before.”

Ian Record:

“But I would argue that that is righting one of the greatest wrongs of, in particular, the IRA system, which”

Terry Janis:

“Absolutely, absolutely.”

Ian Record:

“It either corrupted, or displaced entirely, these traditional governance systems that, as you mentioned earlier, centralized power. And really what are you talking about when you talk about power? You’re talking about decision-making responsibility and basically where in most, if not all, traditional Indigenous societies everyone had a valued role to play, everyone was expected to contribute to the governance of the nation in some respect, and it wasn’t called the governance of the nation back then, it was called something else, but basically that’s what it was: young people, old people, elders, everyone had a role. And now from what you’re saying is that White Earth has made a conscious decision to return some of that decision-making authority directly to the people so that they can once again have a valued role.”

Terry Janis:

“I think that if you really apply this accurately, this is the whole ball of wax. If this constitution is going to be effectively implemented, the people themselves are going to organize their own voting districts. That’s the only way it’s going to move forward. And in order for that to succeed, they have to be engaged much more broadly, much more actively, much more dynamically than they have now. The strategy for full ground up, bottom up community development to implement this, requires that kind of engagement for them to really understand that and to organize their own voting districts so that it means something to them. And the constitution provides that they can organize it based upon population centers, historic associations, clan systems and their understanding of that, ‘What does that mean?’ is what defines it. The constitution uses these broad, open words. They have to be defined and the only one that can define them under this constitutional form of government is the people of White Earth and that’s just exciting.”

Ian Record:

“That’s cool. So I want to turn now to the process and that’syou were involved with the process because, as you mentioned, you came on board after the constitution had been drafted, and your job in part was to work with citizens that had been designated by the tribe, employees, etc. to figure out what’s the best approach to actually teaching the people about what this constitution says, what it does. Can you give us a brief overview of the campaign, the comprehensive citizen engagement, citizen education campaign that you guys launched and continue to implement?”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah. We went over it just in the fundamental way. On a most basic level it has to be personal. In order for it to be personal, you have to engage in multiple venues, multiple formats, multiple times. And so small gatherings, unique gatherings, having as active and dynamic a calendar that if they miss this one, there’s going to be another opportunity and another and another. And so really playing that out so that it’s personal in that regard.

Secondly, if you’re going to do this, it really has to engage multiple medias. The majority of the population does not live on the reservation and so we had events not only on reservation, but in the Twin Cities, in Cass Lakes, on the Iron Range and other places where major populations are, but we didn’t go outside of the State of Minnesota, and there’s a huge White Earth population outside of Minnesota as well. And so having the website, having different resources and materials on the website, videos. We did the whole training, a whole two-hour session over each article of the constitution and posted that on the website as well, and then having a symposium that was live streamed on the website; accepting the offer of another entity, Truth to Tell, to host an event on the reservation. The chairperson, the primary drafters of the constitution, all came together and participated on that and had a raucuous good time. It was like really intense.”

Ian Record:

“I watched it -- very intense. I’ll ask you a follow-up question about that.”

Terry Janis:

“And it was real. And so just multiple mechanisms for doing that and making sure that number one, it was personal. Number two, that there were multiple mechanisms for doing that. And then number three, there was absolute certainty that we were neutral, that we presented the materials with, as best as I could, with no offer of an opinion one way or another, good or bad, up or down, a complete respect for the sovereignty of that nation, which in this process meant the sovereignty of the individual to come to their own decision, to make up their own mind with their own process. And my job was to provide as much resources for them to do that as possible.”

Ian Record:

“That Truth to Tell forum, which was live streamed, that was quite athat was on our ‘Must See TV’ list for quite a while. I remember watching it and then saying, ‘You guys got to watch this, you got to watch this.’ And they hadI know they posted the first part first and then there was a little lag and then the second part and we were all waiting with baited breath. And it was interesting the conversation that we had internally because some folks among us said, ‘Oh, man, look how crazy this was. Look howlook how ugly it got at times with people beingraising their voice and calling people out.’ And I made the point, I said, ‘Having watched enough tribes struggle through constitutional reform, seeing some succeed and some fail, that this to methe beauty of this forum that you guys had and the way you did it and the fact that it was so open and it was so transparent,’ I said, ‘to me, that is the most important thing is because --aside from what’s being shared in that forum -- the nation and the project in particular are sending a message to the White Earth people that ‘we want to be transparent in this process, we are doing our part to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.’' And isn’t that the most important thing, is that you’re giving everyone in the community every possible opportunity to make sure that their voices are heard so at the end of the day nobody can say, ‘I didn’t have a chance.’”

Terry Janis:

“And the reality is, whenever you get to learn of a community, after you’re there for a while, you realize people gather at this one place on a regular basis. If I had known that, I would have incorporated it into our strategy and done that. So being very open to the possibility that somebody else is going to come. This was not organized by me, or the tribe, or anybody else. This was organized by Niijii Radio with Truth to Tell and TPT; they did all the structuring of it, they paid for it, they put it all together, they decided on the format. I contributed a lot in conversations with them about the participants and everything else, but to accomplish their goal, having a balance between people that were supportive of it and people that were opposed with strong voices on both sides, even though we didn’t necessarily have strong voices in every situation. Some people didn’t feel comfortable in that environment, but it was their agenda and their show and their program and that kind of transparency is what the tribal council and Chairperson [Erma] Vizenor and Secretary Treasurer Robert Durant committed themselves to. They never interfered with our process at all and were very supportive of that.”

Ian Record:

“I’m glad you bring that up because with another nation we worked with over the past decade or so, they went through constitutional reform about seven or eight years ago now, and they attribute the success of their reform effort to, first and foremost, the fact that they went to great lengths to ensure that the process maintained what was termed an ‘aura of independence.’ Meaning that yes, the politicians, the elected leadership have a role to play and whether it’s funding the process, setting up the body that will lead the process to see it through, but once that’s done, it’s imperative that the politicians take a back seat, that they don’t come to dominate the process, or at least appear to be dominating the process, because it’s imperative that the process itself espouses the kind of principles that you’ve been talking about, which is, ‘It’s not my job to take sides, it’s not my job to champion this, it’s my job to make sure you understand what’s in it.’”

Terry Janis:

“There were people thinking about that in the hiring process. And as many times as I was attacked for not being Ojibwe, this outside guy -- especially a Lakota guy, we’re enemies -- coming in and taking one of their jobs, as many times as I was attacked there was somebody in the audience always who said, ‘This is the best way to do this. There’s no other way we’re going to have an objective look at this and give at least that a chance.’ And so even for the people in the hiring process and the selection committee -- you have to ask them what they were thinking exactly -- but I heard it over and over and over in the community as well.”

Ian Record:

“You talked about some of the strategies that you guys implemented in making sure that you were generating broad community awareness of not just what was in the constitution, but the choice that was before the people about this process, you talked about some of the strategies that you guys implemented in making sure that you were generating broad community awareness of not just what was in the constitution, but the choice that was before the people, individually and collectively. I’m sure not everything went according to plan. You’ve talked about some of the things that you didn’t anticipate when you first set out. Can you share what, from your view, were and are some of the biggest challenges to both, I guess, the process leading up to the vote and then now? And then, what did you do or what are you doing to overcome those?”

Terry Janis:

“On the one hand, you deal with the situation that you have and you create the best strategy you can realizing that you’re going to change it as you get into it. So all that being said, they finished the drafting in 2009 and had quite a few years of not a lot happening. If they could have done a level of this kind of process starting in 2009 leading to a referendum vote on November 19, 2013, that would have been awesome, but they didn’t. And so havingnot having that gap in time -- because you have to make up a lot -- the kind of impetus of coming together and drafting a constitution and then nothing happens and people forget, you lose momentum, you lose context, you lose memory, you lose priority. And so that had to be dealt with and energy created and generated in order to get interest and get everybody back on the same page as far as, ‘This is a priority,’ and ideas and tactics for doing that. That’s what we had to deal with. If something could have been done differently, it would have been changed in the past and have some process engaging from 2009 to the referendum vote.

It also is a really complex document and we put a lot of energy into reading it, working with educators, curriculum developers, the education department at White Earth, Joan Timeche who is the director [of the Native Nations Institute] -- she was really helpful in all of this -- my experience with curriculum development, etc. and thinking through, as adults, what sort of resources and tools can we bring to the table to help somebody work through a hugely complex document. And so reorganizing it, simplifying the language, creating summaries, creating a workbook, getting the text out, really emphasizing the text itself that even though this summary is a summary it’s in a useful way of introducing yourself to it, really being willing to sit down there and go through it word by word as well.

If there was something that we could have taken from that and learned from that, I think it might have been a broader range of stuff. Where if there was more time, really do a pre-K through full adult, develop an educational resource mechanism and tools and strategies to cover that whole broad range because developing a coloring book for a pre-K kid is going to help an adult with that education process as well. And because you’re doing it for a pre-K kid, it’s not insulting to that adult that is actually going to benefit from that. You see what I’m saying? But because we didn’t have that much time, we didn’t develop that full scope and full range of educational resources and tools and have the time to implement it at that scale.

But dealing with a very complex document that is the genesis or basis of a very complex system really would have benefited from more time, a broader-scale approach that engaged non-voting age members and voting age members in an equal sort of basis because everybody votes frombenefits from all of those resources being available to them. That’s just the reality of it. We didn’t have that time. We didn’t scoperamp it up to that scale and that scope of it right away just because of the timing issues. But if we were going to do it over again with more time, especially not losing momentum from the initial 2009 completion of the draft drafting process, I think that’s how it would have gone.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t that couldn’t you argue that that’s the challenge now before the White Earth Nation is, ‘How do we now actually live this new constitution?’ And isn’t part of that challenge, of figuring how to live it, is this tribal civics challenge?”

Terry Janis:

“Oh, absolutely.”

Ian Record:

“of engraining in our people young, old”

Terry Janis:

“Absolutely.”

Ian Record:

“of all ages not only what the constitution says, but this is who we are, this is how we govern, this is how we make decisions, this is the future we seek for ourselves?”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah, and whenever people think about this kind of constitutional change, one of the easiest things to think about is, if you understand what an IRA council is, an IRA constitution and the tribal council and business committee that comes out of it, their kind of authority to make decisions into the most minute things. ‘Oh, you can’t fire that secretary’ or ‘cut their pay,’ or whatever. The council is integrating themselves in every single decision because that is the scope of power that they have; there is no limits on authority or separation of powers. And so for the new legislative council, once it gets organized, to really learn what it means to legislate, to legislate; for the office of the president to really know what an executive authority and role is, the limits and scope of that; for the judiciary to really believe that they’re fully independent. In order for that to happen, the training and education process have to happen from today. As we get resources and tools out there or White Earth gets resources and tools out there to help the people organize their communities, their voting districts, that education process has to happen at that scale.”

Ian Record:

“And doesn’t it also have to be. you mentioned. White Earth has to be sure that the chief executive, whoever that may be, whether Erma or someone else, that they fully understand”

Terry Janis:

“Exactly.”

Ian Record:

“what their role is under this new constitution. The constitution and the limits of that role, where it begins to get into thatoverlaps into someone else’s role and where they need to think twice and vice versa the legislative side.”

Terry Janis:

“And whenever the kids in the community and the people that aren’t going to run for those elected offices, if they understand it.”

Ian Record:

“Well, I was just going to say, that’s critical because they’re the ones that apply pressure, healthy or unhealthy, on those people”

Terry Janis:

“And who are organizing those voting districts and the representative that comes out of those voting districts is going to be one of them. And so they’re going to be selecting somebody based upon an understanding that they have. It’s a true ground-up, building-a-nation process that depends upon education at that broad scale.”

Ian Record:

“I want to switch to one of the strategies that you guys employed and, I think, were more aggressive, I would say, than we’ve seen with other nations that have gone down the reform road and that’s the use of multimedia. And you mentioned that you guys -- and I’ve seen the videos you’ve done. The website is very robust. It has a series of videos featuring you and some other folks talking, sort of, as you mentioned, breaking down the constitution, making it accessible, talking about constitutional, often very legalese-style language and breaking it down and talking about it in very accessible, laymen’s terms for somebody with a 10th-grade education, for instance, trying to make it make sense to them. How did the community respond to that, to that particular strategy of, ‘Here, we’re going to tell you a story about this particular aspect of the constitution and we’re going to use this visual media to do it’?”

Terry Janis:

“The only way that I can really respond to that is the few positive responses that we got. ‘I watched it. It was great.’ All of that was good. I think more importantly though is we put a lot of energy and thought into not just having a strategy and design for doing it, but doing it, constantly, persistently and not only in creating these multimedia things and getting them out there, but doing the community events, but also being absolutely responsive to everybody that called, everybody that walked up, everybody that wanted to talk, that responsiveness -- so returning 20 phone calls a day and having 40 -- and so that kind of response. I think it was the whole thing. And so from day one, building that on an increasing basis, feeling the tension ramp up because there was a growing interest and a growing desire for more information, a growing process of people actually making up their mind and caring about it and getting aggressive about it, and trying to convince their friends and their relatives and other people about their position, that’s all we wanted, that’s all we pushed for. And the only way that I definitively noticed success is when I felt people get more impassioned, more opinionated, and more aggressive about it. The more fights we had, the more I was excited.”

Ian Record:

It’s interesting you bring that up because on one hand you would think, ‘Oh, going into this, I want to avoid anxiety, I want to avoid tension,’ but”

Terry Janis:

It’s just the opposite actually.”

Ian Record:

“You want the opposite.”

Terry Janis:

“It has to build.”

Ian Record:

“Because you want passion and interest and you don’t want apathy.”

Terry Janis:

“Exactly. Exactly. And that’s how we knew we were being successful is because it did grow. And by the time it came to the referendum vote itself, it was a crescendo. It was so intense. It was like, ‘Ah!’”

Ian Record:

“So where does constitutional reform at White Earth stand today, if you can just give a quick snapshot?”

Terry Janis:

“A quick snapshot is passed in the referendum vote; the current process of deciding what the relationship is between White Earth and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. So what the elected leadership at White Earth decided from day one of my participation there, my contract there, was that they want to remain a part of MCT, if at all possible, to organize under this new constitution, if it gets approved, and negotiate with MCT to remain part of MCT. So that’s what they’re doing right now, a good-faith effort on their part to have conversations with MCT. And because the changes in this new constitution compared to the MCT constitution are quite profound, and how that’s really going to happen, one of the initial thoughts is to request from MCT to sponsor a secretarial election that would change the MCT constitution that would allow each Band to establish their own constitutional form of government, and there’s other options for negotiating that as well. So those things are happening right now. They’re pretty tough; MCT doesn’t want to change. I described to you a completely unrepresentative form of government. The smaller bands that are benefiting from that, why would they want to change? They’ve got their own issues internally within their own governance. The system that they have benefits their current leadership. There’s going to be changes, etc. So it’s a broad dynamic. Whether that succeeds or not and how long White Earth commits to those negotiations is a decision of the elected leadership at White Earth right now, and they haven’t given up yet.

If it moves away from that, then you’re really talking about withdrawing from MCT and issues of secession. One of the issue points with the Bureau of Indian Affairs is this is their baby –- MCT -- and they set up this broad infrastructure to maintain and sustain this thing that they created. BIA initially doesn’t want to see this thing changed as well. They can see the arguments for it and against it, etc. There’s a very clear sort of distinction. One of the concerns that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is naturally going to have, as a broad bureaucracy, federal bureaucracy is, what is the ripple effect? So if White Earth withdraws from MCT, the federal government is supportive and recognizes their right to do so and establish their own form of government. Does that open the door for another entity to do the same thing?

San Xavier as a district on the Tohono O’odham Nation, Sandy Lake at Mille Lacs, situations where there isn’t the history of treaty recognition and treaty establishment, for example, White Earth and the federal government. San Xavier necessarily doesn’t have that kind of relationship, or maybe they do, I don’t know their story that well, but there are some things about this that distinguish it in a very real sort of way, not only the treaty relationship between White Earth and the federal government, but at every level, legislative, judicial, executive that recognizes White Earth as a distinct, federally recognized tribe independent of MCT and treats them that way and operates that way. So that kind of historical and practical federal recognition that exists in MCT and doesn’t exist in other places can argue or should argue that there’s not going to be the slippery slope sort of situation that is going to cause a problem to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but the reality is, it will and those are very practical realities for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. So that’s the other thing.

A bottom line for the elected leadership at White Earth right now is they are not going to do anything that jeopardizes the relationship, the federal recognition relationship between White Earth and the federal government. They are not going to do anything that would jeopardize their funding, their relationship, or their status. So that’s got to be resolved before they actually withdraw from MCT. That’s a pretty sticky situation.”

Ian Record:

“Yeah, it’s uncharted waters. It’s hard to find another parallel in the United States.”

Terry Janis:

“There’s none. MCT has no parallel in the country, period. And you can make an argument for that and I can call youI can describe 10 times as many reasons why it’s distinct because it is.”

Ian Record:

“So let’s turn to your own tribe for a second. As I mentioned at the outset, you’re a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, often cited as one of the poster children, if you will, of IRA, the Indian Reorganization Act in that”

Terry Janis:

“I thought you were going to say something else, but I actually”

Ian Record:

“Well, no, in that there’s been a lot ofthere’s been books written about IRA formation at Pine Ridge and the process and you’re quite passionate about IRA, a lot of people are, and I’m wondering, you’ve beenyou’re working with a nation that just basically jettisoned -- or you could argue based on what you just said is still in the process of trying to jettison -- their IRA system, and your own nation still operates with one.”

Terry Janis:

“Yeah.”

Ian Record:

“And being that you’re sort of in this unique position, in that you’re sort of a student of your own nation and its governance system and then you’ve come to learn so much about another nation and their governance system and how they’ve changed it, I guess, if you can sort of try to meld those together and, I guess, what does the White Earth experience say to you about Oglala Sioux and its own governance system and potentially what the future of that could hold?”

Terry Janis:

“The political history of Pine Ridge has had a fairly consistent policy of holding the Bureau of Indian Affairs accountable for its trust obligations. That’s a stronger way of framing this idea and that has been the position of Pine Ridge virtually my whole life. I have argued with them about this a lot, that Pine Ridge should be contracting every function that we can...taking over all obligations, responsibilities, and if it costs us more money, we’re going to do it 10 times better than the federal government will. But the policy position of Pine Ridge is to not let them get away with doing a bad job, to hold them responsible to their trust obligation. That’s how their positioning it. I’m hoping that if they continue with that position that will actually change the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal government because that’s what it’s going to require. In order for Pine Ridge to succeed with that, they’re going to have to change the Bureau of Indian Affairs and move it away from a colonial, paternalistic structure to a service entity. That change is not coming any time soon that I’m aware of.”

Ian Record:

“I would agree and looking more internally though, because basically what you’re getting at is that they’ve taken a very staunch position, and I agree with you based on my work with them that that’s my impression as well, but looking internally, this sort of deep self examination that White Earth has gone through in terms of looking at their own governance system, do you feel inspired or encouraged by the White Earth experience to think that Oglala Sioux will engage in that full examination of their own governance system and perhaps identify a better way?”

Terry Janis:

“No, only because Pine Ridge is Pine Ridge and White Earth is White Earth. We as Oglalas are going to chart our own course. For me it goes back to, ‘Do I respect tribal sovereignty or not?’ And I do. And Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, any other reservation has an obligation to assert their sovereignty and make that decision for themselves. I think that Pine Ridge is wrong in that position in regards to the trust obligation and their ability to really change the federal government. I think it’s a lack of recognition of what the federal government is vis-á-vis Indian nations and that relationship, but given that that has been their position and the strength of it -- that’s why I don’t speak in weak terms in that regard and I speak in strong terms -- that it is the policy of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to require the federal government to live up to its trust obligations, period. That is a strong statement, an assertion of tribal sovereignty and it puts the obligation for improvement and reform on the federal government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in particular. And that’s the best I can do with that.”

Ian Record:

“Final question. You’ve been immersed in the White Earth constitutional reform process for about a year. What, and I understand your point that every tribe is distinct in the way it chooses to express its sovereignty is unique, but aren’t there lessons from the path that White Earth has traveled and is traveling right now that other nations who are feeling like their constitutions and their system of government aren’t up to par, that aren’t reflective of who they are, aren’t there lessons that they can learn from the White Earth experience?”

Terry Janis:

“Absolutely. The bottom line is, White Earth is doing it. You saw the Truth to Tell; you saw the level of opposition to this thing. White Earth is doing it and the vote that the referendumI was sitting there when the count came in. I was completely shocked. We had a registration process that had a larger percentage of registering voters than has ever turned up to an election before, over double the normal turnout and of that, 80 percent of them voted for it. I was stunned. I didn’t expect it to be that large. Given thatand one of the things that you, if you have a conversation with the folks at Osage, for example, the kind of opposition that you saw in Truth to Tell that I saw every day out there, that they saw at Osage as well, whenever you’re thinking of a fundamental and profound change like this, there is going to be opposition. There has to be. You have to accept the reality of this colonial history and that people actually benefited from it and they’re not going to give that up without a fight, period. And that fight is going to be intense and you’ve got to stick with it and you’ve got to make it happen and see it through and let the people decide in as full and honest as a vote as you can get. And if they reject it, that’s great because that then leads you to another conversation and to draft a constitution that they really do want. That’s all that means.”

Ian Record:

“I’m glad you brought that up because I’ve heard a number of folks who’ve been directly engaged in constitutional reform say, ‘There’s no such thing,’ or something along these lines, ‘there’s no such thing as a failed reform effort.’”

Terry Janis:

“Exactly.”

Ian Record:

“For instance, Lac du Flambeau just went through a referendum vote on some pretty important amendments and they were voted down. And I think that if you talk to the people that led that effort, they might be discouraged a little bit, but they’re not giving up and I bet you they would say that, ‘We came out of this process with a greater understanding of what’s at stake and what the role of the constitution is in the life of the nation than we did before and that’s a good thing.’”

Terry Janis:

“And that’s the bottom line that I take from this experience. White Earth is doing it, an Indian nation, a tribe that wants to define their own governmental system. You don’t accomplish that without doing it. Whether it succeeds the first time or the 20th time, it doesn’t matter because each time you do it, you’re informing your population, you’re engaging the conversation and you’re building that base and that is nation building.”

Ian Record:

“Great way to end. Well, Terry, we really appreciate you taking some time to share your thoughts, experience and wisdom with us.”

Terry Janis:

“It was a pleasure. It was good seeing you again, too.”

Ian Record:

“Yeah, good seeing you. That’s all the time we have today for Leading Native Nations, a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us."

 

Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation: Constitutional Reform

Year

Days after certification of the Secretarial Election, positive comments were coming into the office of the Constitutional Revision committee. Donna Morgan and Ramona Two Shields began receiving flowers and calls from tribal members happy with the results.

Both Two Shields and Morgan say it was the tenacity and commitment of the late, former North Segment Council Representative Titus Hall who kept them going. Titus Hall served as Chairman of the Election Board and believed it was past time to take our government back...

Resource Type
Citation

Baker Embry, Glenda. "Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation: Constitutional Reform." MHA Nation News. September 17, 2013. Article. (http://www.mhanation.com/main2/Home_News/Home_News_2013/News_2013_09_Sep..., accessed October 7, 2013)

How Does Tribal Leadership Compare to Parliamentary Leadership?

Producer
Indian Country Today
Year

Many traditional American Indian governments have significant organizational similarities with contemporary parliamentary governments around the world. A key similarity is that leadership serves only as long as there is supporting political consensus or confidence that the leader or leadership represents the position of the community or nation. Generally, Indigenous political leadership serves at the consent and support of the local group, community, or nation...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Champagne, Duane. "How Does Tribal Leadership Compare to Parliamentary Leadership?" Indian Country Today. September 27, 2013. Article. (https://ictnews.org/archive/how-does-tribal-leadership-compare-to-parliamentary-leadership, accessed July 18, 2023)