Ten Mille Lacs Band members participated in the first Constitutional Convention meeting at Meshakwad Community Center in Hinckley on Friday, January 18. The meeting is expected to be the first in a long series to determine possible changes to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) Constitution.
The delegation met with Band Assembly on January 10 to ask questions and receive advice from the district representatives and secretary-treasurer.
They have made it clear to Band Assembly that they want to represent Band members' interests at the Constitutional Convention, so they are actively seeking input.
If you want to share your opinions on changing the Constitution — or leaving it as is — please contact one of the delegates from your district:
District I: Curt Kalk and Danielle Smith
District II: Tom Benjamin and Michael Davis
District: IIa: Michele Palomaki and Todd Sam
District III: Maria Costello and Birdie Roberts
Urban area: Al Olson and Dawn Stewart
The Tribal Executive Committee (or TEC, which is composed of the Chair and Secretary/Treasurer of the six MCT bands) started discussing the need for a Constitutional Convention in 2016, in part due to ongoing discussions about how the Constitution should be interpreted, who has the authority to do so, and whether existing interpretations are legally binding.
The TEC in recent years has also considered changes to enrollment rules and even scheduled a Secretarial Election in 2015, but the election never occurred.
The Constitutional Conventions were approved by the TEC at a special meeting on March 15, 2017, at Grand Casino Hinckley. That meeting was scheduled after the TEC was asked by a Band member to force Mille Lacs to return to a "reservation business committee" government as outlined in the Constitution.
The Mille Lacs Band believes that its division-of-powers government is allowed under Article VI of the Bylaws of the MCT Constitution.
Preliminary meetings were held in 2017 and early 2018 on all six MCT reservations and in the Twin Cities. The first was held in August 2017 at Grand Casino Mille Lacs.
Six of the seven meetings were facilitated by the Native Nations Institute (NNI) of the University of Arizona with support from the Native Governance Center (NGC).
A total of 398 individuals attended the six sessions facilitated by NNI. Reports on the meetings and a final summary were prepared by NNI and NGC and are available on the MCT website.
To learn more about the Constitutional Conventions, see page 11 and https://www.mnchippewatribe.org/constitution_convention.html.
The Constitution was adopted in 1934 and approved in 1936. (See below for more on the history of the Constitution.)
The MCT was formed under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) for the purpose of distributing funds promised by the Nelson Act of 1889.
Because distribution of money was central to the creation of the MCT, the governing bodies of the six bands, or Reservation Business Committees, resembled corporate boards more than true governments.
The RBCs were included in the 1963 Revised MCT Constitution during the Termination Era.
In 1980, the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided funding for tribes to redesign their constitutions. Mille Lacs leaders Art Gahbow and Doug Sam were the only TEC members to submit a proposal, which was rejected by the TEC.
Undaunted, Art, Doug, and other leaders continued their quest to create a government that better met the needs of members by adopting a division of powers form of government that modified the RBC into Executive and Legislative branches. The chair of the RBC became the Chief Executive, who is responsible for government operations and relationships with other governments. The RBC Secretary/Treasurer became the Secretary-Treasurer and Speaker of the Band Assembly, who presided over the Legislative Branch, which was made up of the Speaker and three district representatives.
In reality, the MCT's authority is limited mainly to three areas: elections, enrollments, and land. Most day-to-day operations are conducted by the member bands with little input from MCT or its Tribal Executive Committee, causing some to question whether the MCT should be disbanded.
A Primer on the MCT Constitution
The information here was prepared to give Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) members an understanding of the history of the MCT Constitution and the process for changing the Constitution.
An important aspect of any Constitution is to outline the rule of law for the nation and to create a system of governmental powers that outlines the rights of members and responsibilities of elected officials. The articles are like chapter headings, describing the purpose of each portion. Each article is then separated into sections, like paragraphs. One Article grants each Reservation Business Committees the authority to make decisions on their own reservations.
Many constitutions have a three-branch government that check and balance each other, typically a legislative branch that makes laws, an executive branch that executes the laws, and a judicial branch that interprets the laws. Our MCT Constitution does not have a three-branch system. Instead, our elected officials serve as lawmakers, executors, and ultimate decision makers; in fact, in 1980 the TEC issued an official interpretation that they (the TEC) were the only ones who could interpret the MCT Constitution.
Constitutions also outline who their citizens are and the boundaries of their jurisdiction. Over time our MCT Constitution has changed. The original MCT Constitution was adopted on June 18, 1934, and approved by the Secretary of the Interior on July 24, 1936, pursuant to the authority granted in the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. A Corporate Charter accompanied the MCT Constitution, ratified on November 13, 1937; it was ultimately revoked by an act of Congress on February 12, 1996. This Constitution has up to two delegates from each community within each reservation; there were about 65 elected officials. The delegates then selected two people from each reservation to serve as the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC). TEC members then selected who was going to be the President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.
Citizenship within the MCT was debated for a long time. Our leaders at that time wanted all descendants included in membership, but were forced to agree to use the ¼-degree blood quantum that we still have in effect today.
The Constitution has changed a little over time with referendums approved by voters and the Secretary of the Interior. The first change happened by a referendum of voters in 1963. The Assistant Secretary of the Interior approved the Revised Constitution on March 3, 1964. This change created the “Revised” Constitution, removed the local charters, created the Reservation Business Committee structure, implemented ¼-degree blood quantum, and changed term limits from one year to four years.
More changes were approved by voters and the Secretary of the Interior in 1972. Footnotes on the MCT Constitution, 1972 version, highlight changes: 1.) Voting age was changed to 18; 2.) Candidates for office must be at least 21 years of age as well as enrolled in and reside on the reservation of their enrollment. Before the 1972 constitutional amendment, the MCT acted more like one. People were eligible for services on any of the six reservations and could even run for office on any reservation as long as they were enrolled in the MCT.
More changes to the MCT Constitution were approved by voters and the Secretary of the Interior in 2005/2006. Almost 83 percent of the members who voted on November 22, 2005, approved two measures:
Proposed Amendment A: A candidate for Chairman, Secretary-Treasurer and Committeeman must be an enrolled member of the Tribe and reside on the reservation of his or her enrollment for one year before the date of election. No member of the Tribe shall be eligible to hold office either as a Committeeman or Officer until he or she has reached his or her twenty-first birthday on or before the date of election (4,127 to 846) and
Proposed Amendment B: No member of the Tribe shall be eligible to hold office either as a Committeeman or Officer if he or she has ever been convicted of a felony of any kind; or a lesser crime involving theft, misappropriation, or embezzlement of money, funds, assets, or property of an Indian tribe or a tribal organization.
The current MCT Constitution can be changed by a vote of the people. Twenty percent of the resident voters or eight members of the TEC can ask the Secretary of the Interior to call for a referendum where all MCT members are then allowed to vote on a proposed change. The Constitution requires that 30 percent of those entitled to vote must vote, and if a majority of the voters agree, the change is implemented.