White Earth's controversial new constitution stalled
WHITE EARTH (FNS) — A new constitution approved two years ago by an overwhelming majority of voters on this Indian reservation is crumbling due to efforts by officials who want to see it never implemented.
“We’re going backwards,” White Earth Tribal Chairwoman and constitution supporter Erma Vizenor said, lamenting how the document has been scuttled.
The constitution would bring sweeping — and controversial — changes to life at White Earth.
For one, it would eliminate blood quantum — the rule that White Earth members must have at least a quarter of Indian blood — and instead require proof of lineal descent.
The constitution would also disband the White Earth Tribal Council and replace it with three branches of government: executive, legislative and judiciary.
But though it passed with 80 percent of the vote, the document has been eroded by opponents who swept a majority of the tribal council in a close 2014 election.
When they came into office, Tara Mason, Steven Clark and Kathy Goodwin set a new tone on the council. Since their arrival, a constitutional transition team has been disbanded; grant money received from the Bush Foundation to support the constitution has been returned; and the White Earth newspaper, Ashinaabeg Today, has been banned from publishing any articles about the constitution.
Goodwin said the censorship was necessary because the newspaper was being used to present only one side of the debate over the constitution.
“No one else had access,” she said.
Vizenor said the censorship was unacceptable.
“They’ve shut down the newspaper. That’s so anti-democracy,” she said. “I haven’t been able to write anything in the tribal newspaper for four months.”
Goodwin said her opposition to the constitution was simple: the process did not follow the rules outlined by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which is made up of six nations including White Earth.
But Goodwin also said she opposed the constitution’s main provisions, calling them unnecessary and detrimental.
Eliminating blood quantum, she said, would bring in too many new members, which would strain the services offered by the nation.
“We have 20,000 members in our tribe in White Earth and right now we’re trying to help all the members,” she said. “We have a lot of people we need to try to help before we can expand.”