Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Will Hold Constitutional Convention


First meetings to be held at Mille Lacs August 21-22

Brett Larson Staff Writer

At a special meeting on June 29 at Northern Lights Casino in Walker, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) scheduled three constitutional convention meetings to be held around the state in August, September and October.

The meetings will be held August 21 and 22 at Mille Lacs, September 25 and 26 at White Earth and October 23 and 24 at Bois Forte.

The constitutional convention was called to address several issues and questions raised by TEC members and other MCT members who have spoken up in recent months.

The current Constitution was adopted by members of the six MCT Bands as part of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, and several TEC members and other Band members stressed that it is out of date and was created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs — not by tribal members.

Leech Lake Chairman Faron Jackson said, “It seems bizarre that we have to operate under a constitution that was designed by the federal government.”

Secretary-Treasurer Ferdinand Martineau of Fond Du Lac said, “The Constitution was made to get rid of Indian people. It was made to dissolve us, our sovereignty, our history and everything that goes along with it. I’ve never agreed with the enrollment requirement. One-quarter blood is going to destroy the Indian people.”

Questions also arose about the power of the Tribal Executive Committee to interpret the Constitution. Much of the discussion at the June 29 meeting centered around Interpretation 1-80, passed in 1980, which set the stage for creation of tribal courts.

Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason of White Earth said she believes Interpretation 1-80 is unconstitutional and that the TEC overreached its authority.

Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin thanked the Band members in attendance and pointed out that the TEC’s decision to call a Constitutional Convention was made without formally consulting the 41,000-plus members of the MCT. “There is a huge population that are not up to date on these issues,” Melanie said. “They’re working during the day, so they don’t come to these meetings. How do we include those members as well?”

She said the TEC operates as representatives of the MCT membership. “When we’re sitting here it’s not just our opinion. It is about what the people have requested or demanded.”

Kevin Dupuis, who is President of the MCT and Chair of the Fond Du Lac Band, agreed that Band members should be the deci- sion makers, but he said they were not consulted about the secretarial election planned for 2018.

He said if the TEC has the authority to interpret the Constitution, then there’s no need for the secretarial election, and that the TEC picks and chooses arbitrarily — which is why a Constitutional Convention is needed. “I’ve waited for this day for 21 years: To actually sit down in a room and talk about the Constitution and the interpretations that exist,” he said. “We have the opportunity to do it right now. If you don’t like this document, then why don’t you change it?”

Secretary-Treasurer Carolyn Beaulieu said she agreed with Kevin that the election is unnecessary and asked for the opinion of Phil Brodeen, the new legal counsel for the MCT.

He said there are two competing modes of thought. A strict interpretation of the Constitution says the TEC’s interpretations are void, but that view limits the inherent sovereign authority of the individual Bands.

He recommended going forward with the constitutional convention process in order to clarify the issues. He said a lot has changed since the Constitution was written and the Bands have come a long way. “We have to think about how to move forward from this document to something that works better.”

Band member Christine Costello addressed the TEC about the importance of educating MCT members about the issues, which she said are “confusing as hell.”

“If the Constitution is outdated, maybe the MCT is as well,” she said, calling for a “real dialogue” on the issues. “If we don’t educate our young people, we won’t be sitting here talking about what’s right and what’s wrong because there won’t be anything left.”

The secretarial election, which was scheduled to be held in con- junction with the general election in June 2018, was canceled at the July 10 TEC meeting (see sidebar). The first resolution involved language on whether or not to change enrollment requirements to include Canadian First Nations blood. The other resolution asked if MCT members want other Ojibwe blood from federally recognized tribes in the United States to be included in blood quantum.

Another issue that arose is a moratorium on enrollment transfers passed by Mille Lacs and Fond Du Lac Bands. Archie LaRose of Leech Lake said there’s no point holding an election on enrollments if two Bands don’t allow transfers. “I have a big, big problem with having that secretarial election. We have to lift the moratoriums from Mille Lacs and Fond Du Lac. If we’re prejudiced against ourselves, it makes no sense to have a secretarial election. Hopefully those two reservations change that moratorium. We don’t have that authority under the MCT Constitution anyway.”

Over 50 Mille Lacs Band members attended the meeting. A discussion followed with Executive Branch Legal Counsel Syngen Kanassatega, where it was decided to hold meetings in all three districts and the Urban Area to inform Band members about issues related to the Constitutional Convention.

he TEC met again on July 10 for its regular quarterly meeting.