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UPDATED: Vizenor resigns as White Earth chairwoman


Erma Vizenor

WHITE EARTH, Minn. -- Erma Vizenor said fierce political opposition left her with "no option" but to resign Wednesday as leader of the White Earth Nation.

Vizenor's resignation came amid backlash for her support of a constitution that would bring major, controversial changes to the way White Earth is governed and how its membership is determined.

An overwhelming majority of White Earth voters approved the constitution in a 2013 vote, but the document was eroded after three opponents of the constitution swept the White Earth Tribal Council in a close 2014 election.

Vizenor said the three new members--Steven Clark, Kathy Goodwin and Tara Mason--have made it impossible for her to get anything done.

"I cannot take three people on the council fighting against me," said Vizenor, 71. "Everything I propose, they're against."

The White Earth Tribal Council was set for a vote this Friday on whether to remove Vizenor from office.

The vote was set after the leadership of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe--the umbrella organization for White Earth and five other bands--met in December and decided to strip Vizenor of her powers because of her continued work on the constitution.

Vizenor said the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe "had no business stepping into White Earth internal affairs."

She expected to be removed from office Friday even though, she said, "I've done nothing wrong."

"I have built the tribe up, from a deficit, and I built community centers, schools, infrastructure, tribal headquarters ... I've done so much. I'd like to stay because that's what hurts me the most, I've done so much. I worked 24/7."

Vizenor served as the tribe's secretary-treasurer from 1996 to 2002 before becoming chairwoman in 2004.

"Constitutional reform has always been my agenda," she said.

The constitution would separate White Earth government into three branches: executive, legislative and judiciary. It would also ease the rules requiring how much Indian heritage is required to be a member of the tribe.

Supporters like Vizenor say the changes would reduce corruption in government and increase the tribe's membership. The opposing view says the tribe does not have a corruption problem, the tribe already has enough members and the constitutional process was not in line with rules set by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

Environmental activist Winona LaDuke has said she will run for White Earth chairwoman. Her priorities include constitutional reform.

Vizenor said of LaDuke: " I think she's very smart. I think she'll do a good job."

Vizenor said she plans on running for secretary-treasurer in two years.

In a news release, the tribal council said it accepted Vizenor's resignation Wednesday in a 3-0 vote.

She said her last day is today.


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