Wide-Ranging Discussion at First MCT Constitutional Convention Meetings


by Brett Larson Inaajimowin Staff Writer

Members of six member bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe met at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on Aug. 21 and 22 for the first in a series of Constitutional Convention meetings.

The meetings were facilitated by staff of the Native Nations Institute (NNI) of the University of Arizona, with support from the Native Governance Center and the Mille Lacs Band.

The first day’s meeting began with a strategic thinking exercise with attendees completing the sentence, “I want my (grand) children to live in a tribal community where ...” Some participants shared their comments, which included themes of language and culture preservation, safety, unity and sovereignty.

Following that opening conversation, NNI Executive Director Joan Timeche of the Hopi Tribe and Outreach Specialist/Senior Researcher Danielle Hiraldo of the Lumbee Tribe gave a presentation on government and constitutions across Indian country.

The day concluded with suggestions for changes to the Constitution. Among the suggestions:

— Separation of the six Bands and dissolution of the MCT
— Creation of a Constitutional amendment process that doesn’t require approval of the Secretary of Interior
— Clarification of who has authority to interpret the Constitution
— Changes to enrollment rules
— Increase in the number of representatives

On Tuesday morning, after a presentation on the Constitution by MCT Attorney Phil Brodeen, much of the discussion revolved around interpretations of the Constitution by the MCT’s Tribal Executive Committee (TEC). The first interpretation, in 1980, gave the TEC power to interpret the Constitution. Other interpretations addressed tribal courts, rules on candidacy and other issues.

Some members said the Constitution does not authorize the TEC to interpret the Constitution, and that a referendum needs to be held before interpretations can be authoritative.

The issue has been repeatedly raised in recent meetings of the TEC, which led to the scheduling of the Constitutional Convention meetings.

The agenda and facilitation of the meetings also became a point of discussion Tuesday morning. Two MCT Tribal Executive Committee members and others said they did not agree with the decision to hire facilitators to run the meeting.

MCT Executive Director Gary Frazer said the Mille Lacs Band proposed contracting with the facilitators the week before the meeting. Since there was not time to receive approval from the TEC for the MCT to hire the facilitators, the Mille Lacs Band contracted with the facilitators. Frazer said he spoke with several TEC members who were not opposed to the use of facilitators.

After lunch TEC President Kevin Dupuis called a special meeting of the TEC to discuss the continued use of the Native Nations Institute to facilitate Constitutional Convention meetings.

The TEC voted to continue with the Native Nations Institute but decided to add a designated tribal member from each reservation to help facilitate upcoming meetings.

The next meetings are scheduled for Sept. 25 and 26 at Shooting Star Casino on the White Earth Reservation and Oct. 23 and 24 at Fortune Bay on the Bois Forte Reservation.

For more information on the Constitutional Conventions, see Constitutional Convention Information