Sep 18, 2015 - What Constitution did Sitting Bull Live By? -Chase Iron Eyes

What Constitution did Sitting Bull live by? By Chase Iron Eyes

The Constitution Reform effort on the Standing Rock Nation was launched during Little Eagle Wacipi, July 25, 2015. Before the launch, I drafted four separate proposed constitutional amendments pursuant to the power that lies in the people according to the Constitution of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST). Those amendments would accomplish 1. An assignment of land & transfer of rights to the 8 governing districts of the Tribal Nation, 2. A delegation of economic development authority to the 8 sub-districts, 3. Granting a moral fitness hearing to potential candidates for public Tribal office, and 4. Legalization of Hemp.

Before I get into the process and points of the petition let me give a little background. I exhausted my patience in attempting Tribal Economic development according to the model where I was the one bringing ideas (not always my own), making contacts, corresponding by phone or email, traveling on my own dime and then laying those opportunities at the foot of Tribal Council so I could then waste my energy trying to convince them this, that or the other thing was a good idea. Ideas like wind energy in 2009, a tribally owned propane coop now, a tribally owned digital cloud infrastructure now, a hemp project that would require legalization now so we can produce something sustainable, a Tribe to Tribe tobacco opportunity that also would require an ordinance, that a liquor tax should be in place right now to raise money and that without it we are promoting alcohol on the Rez. These ideas are not original to me but it became clear to me that council should not be where these ideas go to die. People all over Indian Country should not have to live in squalor waiting for their inept councils to move or not to move. They should transfer land & power to the Districts and the people so we can provide for ourselves. Promote private and sub-government entrepreneurship. I wanted the potential economic development partners to be increased from one tribal government to 8 other sub-governments with land & authority to get the job done. Seems simple enough; not what happened.

Now, back to the Constitution. Article VIII of the SRST Constitution states the following:

This Constitution may be amended or rewritten by a majority vote of the qualified voters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe voting at an election called by the Chairman. The Chairman shall call an election upon a proposed amendment or rewrite to the Constitution at the request of three fourths (3/4) of the members of the Tribal Council or upon petition of twenty (20) per cent of the qualified voters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

20% of Qualified Voters according to the Election Commission and Election Office Director means 20% of the last number of people who voted in the most recent General Election. That number is 1999 based on the last general election held in the year 2013. Thus, I was advised that I needed no less than 400 signatures to get these amendments in front of SRST voters for all to decide their fate. The day that we were to deliver the petition with 520 signatures we were told by SRST’s in-house attorney that 400 signatures was not going to be sufficient because the number of people who voted in the last election is not the number of qualified voters mentioned by the constitution. SRST not only had their in-house attorney find a larger # from the BIA office which would mandate 936 signatures needed as opposed to 400 but they paid their outside firm Sonosky, Chambers,, with the people’s money, to draft a legal memo outlining the reasons why our Petition should be shot-down or at least stalled.

It is up to any Chairperson to decide what the fate of a peoples’ petition to amend our Constitution is. In doing that, she or he will decide whether the office of the Chairperson will honor the peoples’ intentions and signatures expressing their will to change the way we govern ourselves. I thought the Chairman would take the petition and say something like “if the election commission can confirm at least 400 signatures I will put these measures on the ballot for this year’s election Sept. 30, 2015.” Instead they hit us with a list of reasons SRST attorneys think the peoples’ petition cannot happen. Those reasons are threefold. I just talked of the dispute about the # of signatures needed to let all the people vote on an amendment but there are two more.

The Second “legal reason” the peoples petition was stalled is due to the alleged illegality of the first measure which seeks to assign land to the 8 governing Districts of the SRST. SRST attorneys claim that land being assigned/transferred to the 8 governing districts is prohibited by the Non-Intercourse Act of 1790, et. al. This law states that the title to Tribal land cannot be conveyed to any other entity without the approval of the U.S. Congress, so in order for the Council to assign land to the Districts, Congress would have to approve it. I don’t know how Tribes lease their land now but the proposed amendment did not seek to transfer title. Indians don’t really have “title.” Indians have some weakened title status called “Indian land title” which was dreamed up by some European centuries ago and only recognizes our “beneficial use.” All we were trying to accomplish is a very real assignment of land to the districts so the districts could develop that land consistent with Tribal law. Instead of paying people to find a way to make this possible, SRST paid non-Indian attorneys to tell our elected leaders why they cannot do these things and the elected leaders listened to them.

Standing Rock’s outside law firm (Sonosky) advised the Standing Rock Chairman (& Council) that he had the authority to not allow Standing Rock voters to vote on whether or not to legalize Industrial Hemp because hemp is considered a controlled substance by the federal government. Thus, legalizing the plant and cultivating it without a federal permit would bring the possibility of federal criminal prosecution. First of all, it is not a crime to legalize hemp. Secondly, over 50% of people who vote in a special election would have to vote to legalize. Lastly, it may be considered a crime for a person (authorized agent by the Tribe) to grow hemp on the Rez after Obama is out of office but while Obama is in office and the Dept. of Justice has stated it would not prosecute Tribal Nations for growing hemp, or marijuana, we should seize this opportunity. Who would be authorized to grow hemp is not something that we have figured out yet. The Tribal Council would have to pass a hemp ordinance to regulate all aspects of hemp cultivation.

There may be a legitimate legal dispute about the # of signatures we are to gather but who decides what that number is? According to some council reps it has been the policy of the SRST to use the number who voted in the last election for things such as recall or removal of council members. That is a practical legal interpretation of our Constitution and would be sufficient to use for the recall of an elected official. Yet, we have SRST attorneys successfully casting enough doubt into the minds of the council to cause this pause. The pause has not been without benefit though. The Tribal Council has appointed a Constitution Reform Commission to determine a set of constitutional amendments for the Tribe to put to a vote of the people within 11months. However, I am more concerned about the parameters of our Constitution and how the power and land is going to be divided between and among the Council, The Districts and The People. That is what’s really at stake here. Can future Chairpersons ignore the will of the people, determine legality and stall indefinitely on validated petitions? That’s the question.

What is the purpose of any constitution? Constitutions are limits on the powers of the central government (Tribal Council) and protections of the rights of the people (Tribal Citizens) rather than tools the central government should use to hold the people in poverty. A Constitution should be a living document that evolves with the culture of a Nation. We the people are the Nation and we are expressing that we want our governance changed but leaders atop stagnant bureaucracies can do nothing and the status protects their privilege.

What is the power of the people? What checks or balances do the Districts or the people have against the Tribal Council? Have we ever had this discussion? It turns out the SRST sponsored a Constitution Reform effort 10 years ago where 28 different amendments were proposed by the people of Standing Rock which were considered for a vote of the people by the Tribal Council at that time and only 4 of those proposed amendments made the cut & were “approved” by the Tribal Council then for a vote of all our Tribal Citizens. We demand a system that any future council or chairperson is compelled to honor a peoples’ petition to amend; a system where elected leaders can’t stall or disapprove a validated petition of the people.

The Tribal Citizen holds the ultimate check. We should not only have the undisputed right to amend our constitution but the right to force our government to do the will of the people whether that includes legalizing hemp, taxing alcohol (which we currently do not), or regulating tobacco cultivation & distribution. The peoples’ right to vote on constitutional amendments should be honored, instead of stalled. It is easier for me as one interested in economic development to gather 520 signatures to push our nation some place better than it is for me to convince 17 elected leaders to move on an idea.

In closing, we are seeking 416 more signatures to push us to the 936 requirement quoted by the SRST Attorney but that would only result in a battle in court as already expressed by the SRST Attorney on whether or not the Chairman has the authority to vet the amendments for legality and subsequently not allow the people to vote if he considers the amendments to be illegal. Tribal Citizens are cautioned to remember that anything truly liberating that we want to do as Tribal Nations is going to be considered “illegal” because the United States imposes its legal will over us at this time. They don’t want us to be independent. They consider us “Domestic Dependent Nations.” So I can’t even blame the lawyers because they only know the racist, oppressive body of federal indian law based on the Doctrine of Discovery and its progeny. We have a heavy responsibility to provide for ourselves and force our leaders to empower us to regain our economic independence. We hold our destiny in our hands. The Tribal Court should weigh in on this important historic matter when we get the remaining signatures as well as our own citizens through the Constitution Reform Commission meetings which are to be held in all the districts within 11 months. All of our people who choose to involve themselves have way more to add than what has already been proposed. Hope to see you all. Stay Tuned and to answer the title question “What Constitution did Sitting Bull Live By?” It sure wasn’t the one allowed by federal law imposed by the United States on Indian Tribe who only have Indian Land Title; it is still the same Constitution that Creation intends for us to all live by. [END ARTICLE]


I. Introduction page for proposed amendments

The conditions of poverty never seem to improve on our reservation over the last 125 years. The United States destroyed our buffalo economy in the late 1800s & destroyed our economy again by flooding our most fertile river-bottom lands in the late 1950s, yet we should still provide for ourselves. An economy is simply a way that a people or nation provides food, shelter, energy (heating, cooling, and electricity), water, and now digital infrastructure needs, which would include any wireless or cabled  communications and multi-media transmission capabilities on that people’s lands. A “high-paying job” that pays in U.S. dollars will get you and your family “out of poverty” but also being able to provide food, shelter, energy and water will also get you and your family “out of poverty.” The Tribal Council system as we now know it has had the authority over the Tribal lands that are currently within our boundaries, that is about 50% of our Tribal Nation’s lands as of 1889, amounting to 1.2Million (of 2.5Million) acres on Standing Rock (The other half of our Rez is owned by non-Indians as a result of massive land-thefts during the Dawes Allotment Act, Homestead Act and Sign or Starve Era in which we also “lost” the Black Hills). This Tribal Council system has also had control over the economic future of our children since the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. We were not meant to succeed under this system.

The individual Tribal Council members over the years are not to blame but the system is: the system of land ownership, land title, legal & economic oppression by the Federal Government, concentration of power in Tribal Council & dependence on Tribal Council which really depends on the Federal Government, have led to a culture of poverty & dependence; that is not really who we are. Many have tried to work with the Tribal Council for economic development only to be met with failure after failure over the last 100 years or so. Unless we do things differently, we will get the same results…that is another 100 years of the same desperate poverty for our children to look forward to. This is why there are 4 measures for referendum election so all Tribal Members will have the opportunity to vote on our future.

You can support any or all of the proposed measures:

Measure 1. Takes land (1000 acres) from the Tribal Council’s control and places it with the District governments so the District governments can more readily zone and develop valuable land for their members without waiting for the Council to act.

Measure 2. Takes economic development authority from the Tribal Council for certain economic development activities and shares it so that the Districts are not held back by the Tribal Council, constantly waiting on Tribal Council’s permission by approving District Minutes, or trying to gain lands approving land assignments to the Districts. This Measure will allow for Districts to provide for themselves.

Measure 3. Grants a hearing in front of the SRST Election commission to those who would like to serve in elected office but have made past mistakes. If the Election Commission determines potential candidates are morally unfit, they may not run for any office again.

Measure 4. Legalizes Industrial Hemp. Industrial Hemp usually contains less than 1.5% THC which means you cannot smoke it to recreationally “get high.” However we can produce food & building materials, heating pellets for pellet stoves like in the #HeatingTheRez project, livestock feed, and many other products such as plastics, to provide for our people here on the Standing Rock Nation and to sell globally.

II. Language of the Proposed Amendments:

The Constitution of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the supreme governing document of the Tribe, may be amended by the voters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) pursuant to Article VIII AMENDMENTS of the SRST Constitution which states :

This Constitution may be amended or rewritten by a majority vote of the qualified voters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe voting at an election called by the Chairman. The Chairman shall call an election upon a proposed amendment or rewrite to the Constitution at the request of three fourths (3/4) of the members of the Tribal Council or upon petition of twenty (20) per cent of the qualified voters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

This PETITION shall serve as the will of the qualified voters listed herein petition that the Standing Rock Chairman call a referendum election so all eligible voters of the SRST can vote on following amendments to the SRST Constitution which would overrule any codes or any organic lawful documents of the SRST:


Currently the SRST Constitution does not assign land to the Districts. This Amendment would change Article III. GOVERNING BODY. Section 2. (which describes the governing bodies of the SRST) to state somewhere in that Article, or in some other part of the SRST Constitution, that : “The SRST hereby assigns 1,000 acres of SRST Tribal Lands in each respective District to each of the 8 governing districts of the SRST listed in Article III. Section 2.  All lands assigned will not be sold or encumbered without the approval of the Tribal Council pursuant to Article IV. Section 1. H. and I of this Constitution. All rights relating to the surface, mineral, water, development, zoning, air space, digital or other future developed spectrum associated with this land assignment shall be transferred to the eight governing districts to develop or provide for the future of their people in a concurrent manner with the Tribal Council. This amendment shall not limit a District’s ability to acquire more than 1000 acres from the SRST or other holders of land interests of whatever kind on or off the reservation.”


Article VII. currently states that “Each district…may organize local district councils and elect District officers to consult, make recommendations and advise the Tribal Council, the Superintendent of the Reservation or officer in charge, and the Secretary of the Interior, on all matters of local or tribal interest. The District Councils and officers shall exercise such powers as the Tribal Council may delegate.”

This amendment would change Article VII  to state somewhere in that Article, or in some other part of the SRST Constitution, that: “The SRST hereby delegates certain economic development authorities listed in the SRST Constitution Article IV. Section 1. C. and M. AND in general so long as not prevented by federal or Tribal law to each of the 8 governing districts of the SRST so that each district is empowered to provide for itself economically without the approval or oversight of the Tribal Council. Each governing district is authorized by this constitution to form Tribal Economic District Enterprises or other such lawful Economic Development pursuits and shall enjoy the same aspects of inherent sovereignty as a sub-division of the Tribal Government including sovereign immunity, favorable tax considerations and any other aspect deriving from the District Governments’ status as sharing in the inherent sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. District Governments are not required to seek the approval of the Tribal Council for lawful economic development including the cultivation and provision of industrial hemp, food, energy, digital communications or any other economic pursuits within the respective districts’ 1000 acres or other acquired acreage.


Article III GOVERNING BODY Section 4. at 3. currently disqualifies certain candidates from office by stating “that he has not been convicted of a felony, dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces, nor has been found guilty by the Tribal Council of misconduct in Tribal affairs.” This amendment would change that by stating somewhere in that Article “that any candidate convicted of a felony in any jurisdiction, or having been dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces, or who has been found guilty by the Tribal council of misconduct in Tribal Affairs, so long as 10 years have passed since any such conviction shall be eligible to run for any public office so long as they are determined morally fit and reformed as judged solely by a simple majority vote of the SRST Election Commission prior to having their name placed on any ballot and after a hearing accorded in sufficient time by the SRST Election Commission. The burden to disclose all offenses and to prove moral fitness shall be on the candidate, failure to disclose shall be a disqualification without hearing. The Tribal Council shall not have review or oversight of the Election Commission’s decision to determine a candidate’s eligibility and moral fitness to run for office nor shall any aggrieved candidate have any further appeal rights. The decision of the SRST Election Commission shall be final and on a case-by-case basis. Candidates who are determined to be morally unfit one time shall not run for public office of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in any subsequent elections.”


The Constitution currently does not provide for the cultivation of Hemp. This amendment would change that by adding, somewhere in the SRST Constitution, a new provision titled and reading as “Industrial Hemp : it shall be legal  within the boundaries of the SRST to cultivate Industrial Hemp, not recreational marijuana, for the economic benefit of the SRST, the 8 governing districts and the enrolled members of the SRST.”

Last Real Indians