National | Politics

David Thorstad: White Earth Nation adopts new constitution

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota took a historic vote to adopt a new constitution:
In a historic vote, on November 19, 2013, the White Earth Nation in northwestern Minnesota became the first member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) to adopt a new constitution. Of the 3,492 ballots counted, the vote was 2,780 in favor and 712 opposed, a 79 percent approval. Since the ballots were secret, there is no way to know the demographic breakdown of those who voted. But with a membership of nearly twenty thousand, the rather low participation seems to reflect a certain apathy on the part of many tribal members. Still, the turnout was twice that for most tribal elections. (Anecdotally, of several tribal members I know, only one had read the proposed constitution and none voted.) But the small turnout in no way diminishes the significance of the vote. "Since the White Earth Reservation was established in 1867, this is the most monumental, historic moment in our history, White Earth Tribal Chairperson Erma Vizenor told the Forum News Service (Paula Quam, "White Earth Members Approve New Constitution," November 20).

The goal of the constitutional reform was "the creation of a constitution for the White Earth Nation that would enact Anishinaabe values and envision a perpetual future as well as create an effective governance structure, including separation of powers," according to Constitution Reform Project Manager Terry Janis and Jill Doerfler (Anishinaabeg Today, May 1, 2013). Funding of nearly $400,000 for the process came from the Bush Foundation, with the aim of supporting Indian nations' sovereignty.

This is a major change. Since the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, MCT members have operated under constitutions that lacked separation of powers, an independent judicial system (judges were beholden to tribal councils), and dozens of references to having to ask the secretary of the interior for permission to do something. White Earth is the largest Ojibwe band in Minnesota and the biggest member of the MCT.

Get the Story:
David Thorstad: White Earth Nation Adopts New Constitution (Monthly Review 11/21)

Related Stories:
Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota work towards constitutional reform (11/21)
White Earth Band removes blood quantum rule from constitution (11/20)
White Earth Band votes on end to blood quantum requirement (11/19)

Join the Conversation