A copy of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's constitution and the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Photo by James Giago Davies / Native Sun News Today

Jeffrey Whalen: Oglala Sioux tribal leaders try to hold onto power

Council members oppose Constitutional Reform

By Jeffrey Whalen
Native Sun News Today Columnist

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been in the process of querying the Oyate for suggested changes to the Oglala Constitution. They have had meeting with the general public on and off the Pine Ridge Indian reservation for most of 2018.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Constitutional Reform rollout result, is due to be happening in middle to late May 2018. We are going to be able to see the top comments on what the Oyate recommend for changes and what they want to be placed on the ballots during the reform voting process. However, there is pushback occurring and its coming from the tribal council members themselves.

The tribal council are elected to serve the Oyate and are tasked with voting on the council floor according to the wishes of the people whom they represent. Sadly, this is an event that rarely occurs. We all have high hopes for our elected council and try to elect folks that we can trust to do the right thing. We hear tons of empty promises by the nominees, we receive friendly greetings by them, some nominees even go around kissing babies to look good, flaunting that spiritual halo the whole time. All their promises will be broken once they are elected.

Most, if not all, elected officials supported constitutional reform during the elections, but now only a handful are still hard at it and willing to keep their promises. Why have they changed their minds? Well, it seems that the Oyate want certain items to be written into the constitution that takes authority away from the council.

We have been hearing that Separation of Powers is near the top of the list, term limits, one (1) representative per district, and possibly four (4) year staggered terms as well. All of those items would effectively reduce the authority of the tribal council.

Jeffrey Whalen. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

For instance, Separation of Powers would take away the council’s ability to manage the executive branch of government on a day to day basis. Currently the tribal council brings a very large hammer down on people who don’t conform to their independent wishes, right or wrong. The Executive Director who is the person who manages all of the programs, usually has little to no authority to independently think for him/her self because of tribal council interference. If the executive director does not do what a council reps wants done, the executive director will be fired.

Separation of Powers would reasonably fix that and would prevent tribal council members from making demands that are unwarranted to the executive branch and will effectively take away lots of the council’s power. But because the current council will see a reduction in power, they are against it and are going against the Oyate whom they are supposed to serve. So yes, I’m totally in favor of a separation between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of tribal government.

Term limits is another hard to swallow issue for the tribal council. This would mean that the council can only serve for around four (4) to six (6) years, then be prohibited from ever serving again. We get long standing council reps who wreck-havoc on the Oyate and its tribal programs. They think they are invincible and routinely go after almost anyone who defies them. They use tribal attorneys to their advantage to take tribal members into court knowing that the tribal member cannot win because they cannot afford to pay for an attorney themselves.

The constitution currently only allows tribal attorneys to be used to protect the civil rights of the tribe and its members. Yet, the council violates that law (and even their attorneys violate it) by fighting against civil rights of the members. So yes, I support term limits to help prevent long standing council reps from violating the civil rights of the Oyate.

Using one (1) council rep per district is favorable to me. Currently we have about 20 of them. The cost alone to support that many reps is enormous. They get paid $42,000.00 per year x 20 = $840,000.00 for two (2) years = $1,680,000.00. Plus, they get $35,000.00 per year for travel. After crunching the numbers, we spend $3,080,000.00 for the two (2) year term on these folks.

Reducing the council down to nine (9), we will spend $756,000.00 in two (2) years and reducing their travel down to $10,000.00 per year, we will only spend $936,000.00 in total on them which is two million dollars less that what we spend on them now. The existing tribal council members do not like this amendment because more than half of them would be losing their council seats. I’m in total favor of having a nine (9) member tribal council mostly because of the economic benefits.

Four (4) year staggered terms; most folks don’t want this amendment to pass because they don’t want certain council members to represent them for that long of a time period. What is missing is the fact that these folks already and usually get voted in again and again and go longer than four years. Some have been in office for more than ten (10) years.

We keep getting the same results with these folks year after year when our economy is still horrible, our laws are still being broken by the council reps themselves, we still get tons of “bad decisions” and we are still is a rut with the continuous nomination of the “good old boys.” Staggered terms are a mechanism which will keep the positive focus of tribal council in place and allows continuity to exist. The existing tribal council does not like this amendment and will fight it because it eliminates their ability to be long term reps. I totally support it for the same reason.


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Contact Jeffrey Whalen at Jeffrey.whalen2@gmail.com

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