Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

100th Anniversary of the Red Lake Constitution, 1918-2018

Celebration Hosted by Red Lake Constitutional Reform Committee

At high noon on Saturday, April 14, 2018, the Red Lake Constitution Reform Initiative Committee (CRI), invited all Red Lake members, families, and guests to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Red Lake Constitution, 1918-2018. The event, held at the Red Lake Humanities Center, had an agenda that included a report on issues that affect the Nation's language, culture, land and natural resources.

Upon entering the building, folks signed in and picked up giveaways of fans, mugs, and handouts. Handouts included an agenda, a page listing the signers of 1918 and 1958 Constitutions, a copy of the 1958 Red Lake Constitution and Bylaws, and a collection of Tribal member feedback/suggestions/opinions gathered by CRI.

After an invocation by Spiritual Leader and Hereditary Chief Greeting Spears, Jr., Committee Chair Tharen Stillday opened the meeting, with a welcome and Introductions.

"We are here to celebrate the foresight of our forefathers and mothers in establishing one of the first Constitutions in Indian Country. We also want to update you on the activities of CRI," said Stillday. "If we do not hold our culture and sovereignty close, we are no longer Ojibwe, but descendants of Ojibwe."

"The Constitution Reform Initiative Committee wants to hear from members of each community in order to ensure that the drafting of a New Red Lake Constitution accurately reflects the voice of the Red Lake Nation," she said.

Remarks by Chairman Seki

Stillday then introduced Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr. As is his manner, he began his remarks by introducing himself and a bit about his upbringing in Obaashiing in his first language Ojibwemowin. Switching to English, Seki noted that the tribe had not revised its constitution of late, the last time being in 1958.

"Do we need as part of our constitution, words to protect our land and natural resources?" Seki asked. "In 1918, with the first constitution, little was said about land, it was about government. In 1938 with the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), it still didn't say much about land. But it did talk in more detail on government; including membership, elections, official duties, and business, but it still said nothing about water or natural resources. These are among the many things that the membership seems to want addressed."

Seki's comments were followed by two choices of meals, a sandwich and soup bar, or a full dinner of meat loaf, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, fry bread, deserts and beverages.

PowerPoint Presentation

While people were eating, Stillday introduced a PowerPoint Presentation highlighting the feedback that the CRI Committee has received from the membership. "We document all ideas and suggestions from everyone," said Stillday, "we want this to be a true document of the people, which will be presented to the tribal council at some point and then put before the membership in referendum."

The first slide Stillday put on the screen were suggestions for the Preamble. The following points were on the slide, the Preamble should include;

• Protections to keep our homeland "closed"

• Where we come from

• Who we are

• The Seven Teachings

• Our environmental Obligations

• Ojibwe and English Versions

General Headings in the PowerPoint Report for inclusion in the Constitution (also included in the handouts) follow:

• Name: Two names seem to be favorites, The Red Lake Band of Ojibwe and The Red Lake Nation.

• Jurisdiction of the Tribe

• Membership, and Comments Regarding Membership

• The Governing Body, Comments and Suggestions

• Elections

• Tribal government authorities and powers

• Ethics in Tribal Government

• Duties of Elected Officials

• Vacancies and Removals

• Governmental Authorities

• Additional Considerations

Honor the Descendants with Tom Cain

CRI member Tom Cain, Jr., whose father was among those signing former constitutions, read off the names of those still living who are descendants of the signers of the 1918 and 1938 Constitutions. Cain then sang an honor song with hand drum, a song that his father taught him. Mike Beaulieu also from CRI volunteered to hold the mike.

Remarks by Former Chairman Whitefeather

Bobby Whitefeather, Sr., Former Red Lake Chairman, 1994-2002, the only Red Laker to hold all three Officer positions, Treasurer 1985-1989, and Secretary 1990–1994, was asked to speak about Red Lake history. Whitefeather spoke to the circumstances surrounding the sole Red Lake treaty of 1863 at Old Crossing, the Dawes Act of 1887-1889 which was the basis for Red Lake's unique sovereignty.

"We were ahead of our time by adopting the 1918 constitution," said Whitefeather. "At that time we weren't even citizens of the US, that didn't happen until 1924. Then in 1934 came the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in which the Feds insisted all tribes adopt a template Constitution roughly based on the US Constitution, totally ignoring our traditional ways of governing."

"Currently, the Red Lake Tribal Constitution resembles an Indian Reorganization Act-era Constitution, "Whitefeather went on. "The federal policy essentially required Indian tribes to adopt boilerplate, European-style governing constitutions in order to be fully acknowledged as sovereign, legal entities by the United States Government. In the past two decades, many Indian tribes have successfully undergone the extensive process to revise their constitutions to better allow them to seek progressive solutions to problems, pursue economic stability and revitalize their cultures, languages, and traditions."

Video Interviews with Red Lake's Three Living Chairmen

Stillday then introduced a short video featuring Red Lake's three living chairmen, Bobby Whitefeather, Sr., Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, Jr., and Darrell G. Seki, Sr., who all commented on the following; language, culture, power, responsibility, chiefs, and education.

Around 3 pm, the main business of the event having been fulfilled, Stillday thanked all there present and drawings were held. Some stayed to offer suggestions and chat with members of the CRI.

Participate Indaga (please)

CRI is located at the Tribal Government Center, for more information or comments, contact Eva Kingbird, Coordinator or Lori Maxwell, Admin Assistant, at 218-679-1501.

Like us and Learn more at the following Facebook link:

Summary of the Committee

The Constitutional Reform Committee

The CRI Committee is a group of Red Lake Band members who represent a cross section of the Band membership. Each area of representation on the committee has been carefully selected by the Tribal Council to ensure the revised Constitution is crafted to mirror the importance of the Ojibwe language, culture, and way of life embraced by the Red Lake Band membership, while also realistically addressing the current and evolving needs of the tribe. The committee is responsible for and will work for a formal recommendation for a revised constitution for approval on a future Election Referendum Ballot.

The Committee includes; Keith Lussier, Michael Beaulieu, Tom Cain, Jr., Lorena Cook, Stephanie Cobenais, Sheldon Brown, Tharen Stillday, Pamela Johns, and Brenda Child.


Through several facilitated meetings and seminars, the Tribal Council recognized that the current constitution needed revisions, and in some ways had outgrown it. It was agreed that the document was a major roadblock to successful self-determination and effective governing due to many factors. In order to begin the process, in 2012 a Constitutional Reform Initiative Committee (CRI) was formed and participants appointed.

The Red Lake CRI's goal is to revise the tribe's current constitution to reflect who the people of Red Lake are as citizens, with the Ojibwe culture, language, customs, and collective priorities at the forefront of the way they govern themselves. The Initiative's purpose is to identify these collective priorities and transfer them into the Tribe's main governing document.

Community outreach, education, and engagement is critical to the success of this Initiative, since it will be the tribal membership ultimately determining if the new and revised Red Lake tribal constitution will be adopted.

Key Elements

• Protect our sovereignty

• Protect our Lands, Language, Culture and Traditions

• Strengthen our economy

• Respect Biculturalism

• Increase Accountability

Vision Statement

Our vision is to reaffirm respect and strengthen ideas of self-governance in the Red Lake Nation's Constitution, a document passed down to us from our ancestors in 1918 and later revised in 1958.


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