Many in my family are asking after the vote in favor of the new White Earth Constitution passed, now what?  I think that the Constitution requires approval, at least according to BIA rules, but given the referendum seemingly violates the MCT Constitution and Federal law, we are left in a gray area.

Gray areas, in the history of self-determination and the upholding of sovereign rights, have been very helpful and productive.  Many aspects of our inherent sovereignty were never expressly given up, or even addressed, by treaties or other laws.  That leaves it up to us to find and renew open possibilities for our futures, our ways of life, and our overall self-determination.  This has fueled the revitalization of many traditions, including aspects of how we govern ourselves.

Sovereignty, however, only exists in relationship to other nations.  No sovereign is absolute, because international relations require compromise.  I support White Earth writing its own Constitution, but the process followed in this last attempt fails to recognize our international relationships.  Our sovereignty is recognized by other nations, including the US Federal government and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe through the current MCT Constitution.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is not only the umbrella federation through which we have a government-to-government relationship with the United States, it also represents our relationship within the federation.  The ballot referendum process ignored both of these relationships.  Until this new Constitution is certified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, White Earth remains fully under the MCT Constitution.  The MCT Constitution is, at this point in time, our only Constitution recognized by the US Federal Government.

From the current Constitution of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (of which White Earth is a part):

ARTICLE VII - DURATION OF TRIBAL CONSTITUTION
Section 1. The period of duration of this tribal constitution shall be perpetual or until revoked by lawful means as provided in the Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat. 984), as amended.

As far as I can tell, the new Constitution did not follow due process of law according to this Federal law.  The 1934 Act mentioned here is the Indian Reorganization Act, which affirmed our right to reorganize under a written constitution.  It further spelled out how the constitutional process should go:

Sec. 16. Any Indian tribe, or tribes, residing on the same reservation, shall have the right to organize for its common welfare, and may adopt an appropriate constitution and bylaws, which shall become effective when ratified by a majority vote of the adult members of the tribe, or of the adult Indians residing on such reservation, as the case may be, at a special election authorized by the Secretary of the Interior under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe. Such constitution and bylaws when ratified as aforesaid and approved by the Secretary of the Interior shall be revocable by an election open to the same voters and conducted in the same manner as herein above provided.

As far as I know, the Secretary of the Interior did not call for this election.  While I do not think the White Earth Nation should have to beg for permission from the BIA, I have no shame in invoking this Federal law in hopes of halting the new Constitution.  It’s not that I think the BIA should have that much power, it’s more that I think the new Constitution is just that bad.

According to Dr. Anton Treuer (who assisted with the Ojibwemowin version of the Preamble to the new Constitution), “White Earth Tribal Chair Erma Vizenor in particular has asserted that White Earth is a sovereign nation and does not need approval from the BIA or the MCT for its constitutional reforms.  However, constitutional reform without sanction from both organizations could jeopardize federal funding for tribal operations, crippling the ability of the tribe to maintain services that tribal members have come to expect.”

I agree that the new Constitution puts White Earth at risk by disrupting our relationship to the US Federal government.  I also wonder how the new Constitution impacts the lives and lands of White Earth tribal members, since MCT holds (if memory serves) 60,000 acres within our boundaries, and several White Earth members reside on, and receive services through, other reservations within MCT.

The MCT Constitution also spells out a process for constitutional reform.  It says:


ARTICLE XII – AMENDMENT
Section 1. This constitution may be revoked by Act of Congress or amended or revoked by a majority vote of the qualified voters of the Tribe voting at an election called for that purpose by the Secretary of the Interior if at least 30 percent of those entitled to vote shall vote. No amendment shall be effective until approved by the Secretary of the Interior. It shall be the duty of the Secretary to call an election when requested by two-thirds of the Tribal Executive Committee.


I found no evidence that Article XII was followed by the constitutional reform committee.  Again, the election was not called by the Secretary of the Interior.  Therefore the referendum for the new Constitution ignored both US Federal and MCT laws. This places our international relationships in jeopardy, and potentially disrupts services to White Earth tribal members who live on other MCT reservations.

The new White Earth Constitution should be denied approval by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and Superintendent Patricia Olby of the Minnesota Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.