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Pine Ridge

Occupation Peoples

Grass Roots Oyate

January 16, 2000

Until we Win

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Community Summary and Survey
A Summary of Constitutional Restructuring
as Proposed by Lakota Oyate


At the request of Lakota Oyate, I have made several visits to Pine Ridge reservation for the purpose of gathering the views of the Lakota Oyate towards how they wish to govern themselves and how their government should be restructured to reflect and respect Lakota values. I have met with many community groups and individuals, have participated in several talk shows and other programs on KILI, and received many calls at home regarding these issues.

The voice of the Lakota Oyate is abundantly clear about the need and direction of change. Each of the suggested changes is coherent with Lakota values and tradition, as expressed by the elders and the many people who have contributed to this process, and each of the changes is coherent with modern notions of democratic government. Summarized below are the major changes suggested and discussed throughout the reservation. Please review each and make any comments in the spaces provided. These Surveys will be collected and I will pull together petitions for constitutional restructuring based on your insights and contributions. All voices will continue to be heard in this process.

The desired changes are in three major areas:

  1. Restructuring the Tribal Council and governing system
  2. Restructuring the Judiciary
  3. Guaranteeing the Inherent Rights of Lakota Oyate

Each of these areas will be discussed below. Please write your responses in the spaces provided and these surveys will be collected and returned to me as soon as possible.

Restructuring the Tribal Council and Governing System

Many of you have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the structure and the function of the Tribal Council. The council seems to be a law unto itself, outside of the control of the Lakota Oyate, even though by traditional and modern democratic practice the council should be answerable to the people at all times. The following changes are meant to reestablish the rule of the people over its governing institution, and to insure openness, accountability and integrity to the governing process. A major focus of the suggested changes is to eliminate the incentive of access to money as a reason for being on the council, so that only people who truly want to work for the people will be interested in being an elected leader.

  1. Changes to the Presidency.
    1. The President should be elected for a four year term. This would allow sufficient time for a president to get work accomplished without re-election pressure.
    2. The President should have a veto power over the actions of the Tribal Council, that could only be overturned by unanimous (or 2/3) vote of the council.
  2. Changes in the structure of the Tribal Council.
    1. Direct popular elections of the treasurer, secretary and fifth member.
    2. Limiting council to one representative per district, with an alternate.
    3. Limit Tribal Council meetings to one per month (or only four times per year), with no special or emergency meetings.
    4. Eliminate salaries for council members, limit compensation to per diem and mileage only.

    5. Prohibit council members from serving on any tribal board or other position with the tribe during term of office.
    6. Prohibit council members from receiving any tribal loans or participating in any tribal programs that he or she did not already participate in before election. (The purpose of these changes is to insure that the only incentive for serving on the council is to help the community, not to help themselves).
    7. All meetings must be held on the reservation and all meetings open to the public. Limit closed meetings to personnel matters only which must be stated on the agenda beforehand, and other business transacted behind closed doors will be null and void.
  3. Term limits on council (six terms, consecutive or aggregate) and on executives (two terms consecutive or aggregate).
  4. Ethics code in constitution that insures no conflict of interest, self-dealing or secret transactions by any tribal representative or employee.
  5. Professional experience for Treasurer.
    1. Treasurer needs minimum of CPA degree and four years business experience.
    2. Treasurer to make public monthly statements of all transactions, checks and other financial relationships between tribe and its members and others.
    3. No check for greater than five hundred dollars without second signature, either secretary or president.
  6. Recall Provision that states that Lakota Oyate, not Tribal Council, shall be the sole judge of the qualifications of representatives. Therefore, only district voters can recall their representative and it will be binding on the council and enforceable in the court.
  7. Removal Provision that states that any other elected official (treasurer, president, secretary, and judges) may be removed by the Lakota Oyate through a removal election. Again, only the Lakota Oyate, not the Tribal Council, shall have the authority to remove officials. Enforceable in court.
  8. Referendum Provision allows Lakota Oyate to demand binding action or binding prohibition on the actions of the council, and will of the Oyate enforceable in court.
  9. Creation a tiyospaye-based General Council of elders and headmen and women to oversee the actions of the Tribal Council. General Council to meet monthly to review actions of Tribal Council upon request of any member of Lakota Oyate and may, by consensus, overrule Tribal Council decisions or suspend operation of an enacted ordinance pending referendum on the issue. Members of General Council will receive per diem and mileage, so that distance and economic circumstance do not inhibit participation.


Restructuring the Judicial System

It is obvious to everyone that the Judicial system is too subject to control by the Tribal Council, and that there is no effective appeal process for persons who are unsatisfied with the behavior and decisions of various judges. Although meaningful court reform requires judges with years of professional experience and a core of trained legal assistants to work with people, there are a number of ways suggested that will limit the worst abuses of the system, and more accurately reflect the culture and custom of the Lakota Oyate in the judicial function.

  1. Election of all judges. Direct election and direct removal by the people is the only way to limit Tribal Council interference with the judicial function. The counsel must not have the authority to appoint or remove judges. Nor should one judge have the right to appoint other judges (this will eliminate favoritism or putting too much power into the chief judge's hands).
  2. Appeals to General Council of Elders and Headmen. There exists today a very limited practical ability to appeal decisions of the court. The Supreme Court meets only occasionally and is not really aware of the background of issues before it. While the Supreme Court has a function in certain cases, for the most part it is irrelevant to the people who need it the most for appealing or staying orders and decisions of the court. It has been suggested that an appeals court made up of elders, or elders and headmen from each tiyospaye and operating by consensus, may be the most culturally appropriate way to allow rapid appeal and decisions based on the collective wisdom of the tribe. This could be the same General Council referred to in the tribal council reform section above, or it could be a separate panel specifically created for this purpose.

I would suggest the following functions of the General Council in this instance:

  1. General Council acts as an initial court or dispute resolution body when both parties agree to it, taking the issue completely outside of the court and into a more traditional forum.
  2. General Council acts as an appeals body with a right to stay decisions or orders of the courts, instead of the Supreme Court, when called upon after a court decision by one of the parties, or General Council acts as appeals body only after Supreme Court makes decision.


Guarantee of Inherent Rights
(Bill of Rights)


Many of the worst abuses on the reservation stem from a lack of recognition of the most basic rights guaranteed in most modern constitutions and also recognized traditionally by the Lakota Oyate. For example, losing your job with the tribe for questioning or disagreeing with a council member's views is contrary to the right of free speech that has always been a Lakota tradition. Similarly, having secret or closed meetings, or having secret financial dealings with tribal funds is contrary to the Lakota value of openness, as well as the right to freedom of information. Although the basic rights of speech, press, etc. are theoretically guaranteed all Indian peoples under the federal Indian Civil Rights Act, they are not respected and are not even recognized in the IRA constitution. As a result, the court (which is supposed to be the guardian of these rights) does not have a direct right to rely on to counter the abuses mentioned above. Nor do the people have a specific cause of action to challenge abusive government behavior. You have suggested the following rights be specifically enumerated in the constitution (the last constitutional reform called upon the council to make a bill of rights, but they have failed to do so and cannot be counted on to curb their own power by this means - these rights must be enshrined in the constitution):

  1. Right of Free Speech (including freedom of press). This will counter the threats of punishment (job and benefit loss) for speaking one's mind openly.
  2. Right to Freedom of Information. With the very limited exception of personal privacy issues, all meetings and activities of the government should be open at all times to Lakota Oyate. Similarly, all financial transactions and all records of the government should be made public and easily accessible.
  3. Right of peaceable assembly and to petition for a redress of grievances.
  4. Right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure, and that no warrant for search or seizure be issued without probable cause.
  5. Right to freedom from prosecution twice for the same offense.
  6. Right to equal protection and treatment under the law, and due process of law.
  7. Right to be free from any branch of the government:
    1. taking private property without just compensation and due process
    2. imposing excessive fines or punishment
    3. passing any law punishing behavior that occurred before the law was passed.
  8. Right to Hold Government Representatives and Employees Accountable for any Actions Taken Beyond the Scope of their Authority.

[End of document]


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