Jun 19, 2013 - The IRA Continues to Haunt Tribes, By Dr. Erich Longie

We, Spirit Lake Nation, sure have been in the news since our tribal chairman took office two years ago, and none of the news is good.

A petition being taken around to force a recall hearing on our chairman should be simple. If the majority of the people want an elected leader gone and follow proper procedure to have a recall hearing, then it should happen.

So why is there so much controversy surrounding a recall petition that is currently circulating around the Spirit Lake Nation?

To answer that, I need to go back to 1934, when Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The IRA encouraged tribes to implement written constitutions and charters for the purpose of giving tribes the freedom to self-govern. These new tribal constitutions established a governing council. Many of these constitutions have similar, and tragic, flaws—no separation or balance of powers, no judiciary, and nothing resembling a bill of rights.

When unscrupulous tribal councilpersons take advantage of this vague, poorly written tribal document and start making up laws/policies to suit their needs, the rights of the people are ignored, and we descend into tyranny. This is what has happened on Spirit Lake during the past two years and why we are reluctant to turn in our petition because we fear it will be illegal suppressed.

What progress we made under prior councils was reversed two years ago when the current tribal chairman took office. The chairman appears to have absolute control over district representatives and does what he wants without being accountable to any one or any laws.

As a result, people have lost their jobs without access to due process. Individuals have been hired without following any type of hiring procedures or regards to qualifications. And, the day to day administration of the tribe has been sorely neglected. For example, we no longer have an elderly program. Noon meals for the elderly, meetings, elderly field trips, and bingos, funded under the elderly program are no more due to this neglect. And one thing we Dakota’s pride ourselves on is our respect and care for the elderly.

According to our law and order code, we have to belong to the Northern Plains Court of Appeals (NPCA). In 2011, a letter was sent to the tribal council requesting a fee for $3000.00 be paid, which the chairman assured would be paid. In January of 2012, NPCA called requesting the renewal application and fee. The tribal judge talked to our chairman and was again promised the fee would be paid. The fee was never paid, and now, all appeals are sent to the tribal council – with the chairman in control.

There is hope. Two new members were recently elected to the tribal council and one incumbent was re-elected on her promise to stand up for the people’s rights. We are counting on this change in the makeup of the council to bring about positive change.

In addition, there are 560 plus tribal members who have had enough and had the courage to sign a petition to force a recall hearing on our chairman. Many more agree with us, but were too scared of the chairperson to sign the petition. We are counting on our newly formed tribal council to listen to the voice of the people and allow us our right to be heard.

We know there will be severe repercussions if we fail. We know some people will lose their jobs. We know others will be denied services provided by the tribe. We know that our relatives will pay the cost for us signing the petition for those of us who are beyond reach of the chairman’s revenge, but we are tired of living in fear. We want the chance to restore what little rights we have. We want to be free of fear of being fired without due process. We do want qualification to mean something when it comes to getting hired or holding a job. We want to live free of tyranny.

My nephew, a fellow US Marine Corps veteran, who served two tours in Iraq, said it best, “I went over sea to fight to help free a country from tyranny only to return and live under a tyrant here at home.”

Last Real Indians