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
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:
- Restructuring the Tribal Council and governing system
- Restructuring the Judiciary
- 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 SystemIntroduction
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.
- Changes to the Presidency.
- 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.
- 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.
- Changes in the structure of the Tribal Council.
- Direct popular elections of the treasurer, secretary and fifth member.
- Limiting council to one representative per district, with an alternate.
- Limit Tribal Council meetings to one per month (or only four times per year), with no
special or emergency meetings.
- Eliminate salaries for council members, limit compensation to per diem and mileage only.
- Prohibit council members from serving on any tribal board or other position with the
tribe during term of office.
- 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).
- 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.
- Term limits on council (six terms, consecutive or aggregate) and on executives (two
terms consecutive or aggregate).
- Ethics code in constitution that insures no conflict of interest, self-dealing or secret
transactions by any tribal representative or employee.
- Professional experience for Treasurer.
- Treasurer needs minimum of CPA degree and four years business experience.
- Treasurer to make public monthly statements of all transactions, checks and other
financial relationships between tribe and its members and others.
- No check for greater than five hundred dollars without second signature, either
secretary or president.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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:
- 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
- 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
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- Right of peaceable assembly and to petition for a redress of grievances.
- Right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure, and that no warrant for search or
seizure be issued without probable cause.
- Right to freedom from prosecution twice for the same offense.
- Right to equal protection and treatment under the law, and due process of law.
- Right to be free from any branch of the government:
- taking private property without just compensation and due process
- imposing excessive fines or punishment
- passing any law punishing behavior that occurred before the law was passed.
- Right to Hold Government Representatives and Employees Accountable for any Actions Taken
Beyond the Scope of their Authority.
[End of document]