White Earth chairwoman stripped of powers
White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor has been censured – essentially stripping her of her power to lead – by a committee of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
This decision does not mean she loses her positionas White Earth chairwoman, but it clears the path for the White Earth Tribal Council to vote on whether or not to oust her.
The White Earth Tribal Council has 15 days to schedule a hearing to be held within 60 days that will call for the removal or recall of Vizenor.
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's 10-1 decision last week, with one member abstaining, was made by the chairpersons and secretary-treasurers of the six bands that make up the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which is the umbrella organization that White Earth falls under.
They found Vizenor guilty of disregarding a resolution approved in April by the White Earth Tribal Council that rescinded an earlier resolution passed shortly after the new White Earth constitution was voted in giving Vizenor the power to work on behalf of White Earth to implement the new constitution.
Although this meant all work on the new constitution was supposed to be halted, it was discovered that Vizenor continued to work on it without the knowledge or approval of the White Earth Tribal Council.
During the MCT Tribal Executive meeting last week in Mahnomen, White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason said there were several times when Vizenor "did business" with outside entities without the knowledge or approval of the tribal council. The big violation discussed in the hearing was a letter Vizenor wrote to federal Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn regarding the constitution issue. The letter was dated after the resolution that stopped her from working on implementing the constitution.
Vizenor maintained she didn't violate MCT law, or any law. She says when the new constitution was voted in two years ago, her obligation was to follow the binding decision made by that board to hold the referendum and to follow the wishes of the voters who approved it.
"When a petition of 30 percent of council calls for a referendum, it shall be done and it shall be binding," Vizenor told the MCT Tribal Executive Committee. "The tribal council voted and the referendum was held; it withstood a court challenge. If we respect our tribal courts, that should be the binding law, so I have only carried out the wishes of a large majority in the referendum."
Vizenor also said the tribal council violated the law by censuring her, and that she, like the other chairpersons of the other five tribes, have always had the authority to work on behalf of the reservation.