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

Native Sun News Today: Oglala Sioux task force forges ahead with new constitution

Constitutional Reform: People v. Council

By Natalie Hand
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION - Reform is defined as “…to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses…”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The Oglala Lakota, a historically matriarchal society, have always maintained a strong reputation for its fierce and resourceful women. A group of contemporary Oglala women have bravely stepped forward to take on the daunting task of reforming the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s 82-year old constitution.

Appointed by their peers at an Oglala Sioux Tribal Council standing committee meeting in May 2017, Oglala District Rep. Dr. Tina Merdanian and Wakpamni District Rep. Jackie Siers were appointed to begin the process of constitutional reform.

A volunteer task force was formed to include Pine Ridge District Rep. Robin Tapio, Oglala District Rep. Stephanie Starr-Leasure and Wounded Knee District Rep. Lisa Jumping Eagle-Deleon who bravely stepped forward and committed themselves and most of the term to bring this reform to fruition.

The group solicited teams to help initiate the plan in phases. Three teams, that include a facilitator, a translator, an admin recorder and a Native Nations Rebuilder, have canvased the expansive remote reservation to reach as many eligible voters as possible.

Team #1 includes Facilitator Nakina Mills, Admin Recorder Connie Ten Fingers, Translator Ivan Star Comes Out, and Rebuilder Tamatane I’atala.

Team #2 includes Facilitator Anna Takes the Shield, Admin Recorder Sandra Fire Lightning, Translator Chris Eagle Hawk and Rebuilder Lisa Schrader.

Team #3 includes Facilitator Kim Killer, Admin Recorder Carolyn New Holy, Translator Mary Lame and Rebuilder alternates.

Back row, from left: Rep. Lisa Jumping Eagle-DeLeon, Rep. Robin Tapio, Native American Rights Fund Attorney Brett Schelton. Front row: Rep. Stephanie Starr-Leasure, Rep. Jackie Siers, Rep. Dr. Valentina Merdanian. Photo courtesy Oglala Sioux Tribe Constitutional Reform Task Force:

“For Phase 1 is community outreach to gather input from the tribal membership.  Information sessions began in November 2017. We have covered all nine districts, some of them twice, due to their population,” stated Merdanian.

OST participants were encouraged to envision the future they would like to see for the Oglala Lakota Nation and asked to recommend innovative and progressive solutions to move toward that vision.

Taking into consideration the fact that over 14,000 of enrolled tribal members will turn 18 by October, the task force has taken time to visit the reservation high schools.

“Our youth and our elders have been the most outspoken members throughout this process. They want change,” added Siers.

The task force said they had 1,299 participants at community presentations and have included off-reservation tribal members in nearby Rapid City.

“We have a lot of tribal members living in Rapid City, due to lack of jobs and available housing on the reservation. It is important to include their input in this reform effort,” said Siers.

KOLC-TV Playlist: Oglala Sioux Tribe Constitutional Reform Meetings

To raise awareness, the media team from KOLC has covered each of the community meetings and the group has a Facebook page The task force has a weekly radio show on KILI 90.1 FM Radio as well to keep the membership informed of their progress.

Phase 2 of the reform effort has been a “boots on the ground” approach, according to Tapio.

“We began going door to door to reach more people. Some folks could not make it to the district meeting locations,” added Tapio.

This effort garnered over 1,400 participants in the reform process. Packets were distributed that included a copy of the survey, the constitution, the treaties and an instruction sheet to all district CAP offices, KILI Radio and other public spaces.

“Phase 3 has included disaggregating the data, meeting with our attorney, reviewing the surveys, pinpointing the qualitative data, which is to say the common theme in each provision of the survey from what the people have stated. Once we got the majority, we compiled them and determined what the desired revisions will be. Now the attorney is working on the language of the 17 amendments of the article in the constitution. The pro-bono attorneys are working diligently to ensure that the language in one amendment doesn’t conflict with another. All 17 amendments, plus the preamble are under revision. The preamble has not been modified since the inception of this constitution. This is what the people want,” noted Merdanian.

KOLC-TV Playlist: Oglala Sioux Tribe Constitutional Reform Webinar

According to the OST Enrollment Office, there are 40,801 enrolled tribal members, of which 20,812, or 51%, live off reservation.  The tribe has 12, 283 currently eligible voters residing within the boundaries of the reservation.  Importantly, the stipulation in the current constitution states that only tribal members within the reservation boundaries can vote. Therefore, the task force has the challenge to secure 1/3, or 4,500 signatures of the eligible voters to move this reform through without tribal council support.

“There are two avenues to make this reform happen. Either by 2/3 approval of the Tribal Council or a referendum of the people. The people have expressed that they would prefer the latter. But, we have assured the Tribal Council that we will share the revision proposals with them to gauge their support,” stated Tapio.

In the beginning, everyone was on board. A resolution was passed to support the reform.  Some council members said, “This is a good thing in part because many of our colleagues want a 4-yr term.” But midway in the process, things changed. Attitudes changed, according to Tapio.

“I believe when they (tribal council) started to hear the peoples’ suggested changes on the constitution, including reducing the number of council reps down to one per district, and the proposed education requirement for council reps, it appears to be too much change for some,” Siers said.

The group plans to get the issue onto the agenda at the upcoming regular May session, and regardless if the Tribal Council approves the reform or it fails, they will launch the next phase of their initiative.


The Oglala Sioux Tribe Constitutional Reform Task Force asked citizens what they would like to see in a new constitution. The results were reported as follows:
96% Want a Business Council
96% Qualifications of Elected Officials: Education
93% Wants to Eliminate Executive Branch
93% Wants Separation of Powers: Executive Branch to be replaced with Business Council: Elected At-Large
91% Wants Off-reservation tribal membership can run for office
91% Limit Council Power
89% Separation of Powers: Judicial-Judges voted at large by the membership
89% Treaties: 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie
89% Re-establish District Boundaries
88% Term Limits
87% One Representative District
85% Stagger Terms
84% At- Large Elections
83% Longer Terms: 4 years
78% Penalties for No-Shows for constitutional meetings
50% Aboriginal boundaries


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