Historic vote for White Earth: Election Tuesday will determine new Constitution
Forum News Service
DETROIT LAKES — It’s being called one of the most important elections in White Earth Reservation’s history.
On Tuesday, enrolled members of the tribe will decide whether they will embrace an entirely new constitution — one that would mean tremendous change for the people of White Earth.
The new, proposed constitution, which was created by an assembled team of constitutional delegates from White Earth, would essentially redefine who they are and how they do business.
Talks of this happening have been in the works for years —if not decades — and it all boils down to Tuesday.
Blood versus blood
At the heart of the issue is determining who can and cannot be an enrolled member of the reservation. Under the tribe’s current constitution, called The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe
Constitution (which it has shared with the state’s five other Chippewa bands since 1936) only those who have at least 25 percent native blood coursing through their veins can be accepted as an enrolled member of the tribe.
The issue of blood quantum has been one of contention for years, as it means exclusion to so many decedents who want to be a part of their families’ Anishinaabe Nation. It means they cannot hunt or fish on the reservation with their parents or grandparents who are enrolled members. It means they cannot vote on issues that impact other family members who do meet blood quantum requirements.
It also means that even if they’ve grown up on the reservation and call everything on it home, they cannot receive its benefits or services.
If the new constitution is passed, the blood quantum law would be dropped and enrollment would then be decided by lineal descent. Being a blood relative would suddenly mean more
than the amount of native blood one has.
Naturally, this would mean the enrolled population, which currently stands at about 20,000 on
and off White Earth Reservation (including the Twin Cities) would jump dramatically.
Not everybody thinks this is a good idea.
The two main issues behind this change are the same two that have proponents embracing it
and opponents fighting it.
"Some opponents believe that if you have a significant increase in enrollment, what does that
do to benefits and resources," said Terry Janis, who has been charged with managing election information.
"And the other argument is, what would this do to the identity of the community as
On the flipside, Janis adds that proponents believe this large increase of enrollment would be
beneficial, not just to the children and grandchildren currently being excluded from reservation rights, but also to the tribe as more talent and resources would be added.
Without a change in the law, many believe the reservation will soon shrivel up as native blood gets "watered down."
"Our nation of 20,000 will be down to only 8,000 in 20 years," White Earth Tribal Chair Erma Vizenor told the Detroit Lakes Newspapers nearly a year ago as she worked to push the new
draft constitution through to a vote. "We’re self-terminating."
Janis says the blood quantum issue has by far been the most talked about, the most argued, the most emotionally charged issue within the proposal. But it isn’t the only one.
A change in leadership
If the voters elect to implement the new draft constitution, the White Earth Tribal Council that
currently holds all of the power on the reservation would disappear, as would the requirement to run its decisions through the larger Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Instead, there would be a separation of powers — a checks and balances system very similar to the federal system.
The executive branch, occupied by an elected president, a Legislative Tribal Council made up of elected representatives from each newly mapped district (including two legislators to represent enrolled members who live off the reservation) and a judicial branch.
Members of the current Tribal Council may run for these positions just like anybody else, but there would be term limits.
Vizenor, too, would have to run for a position of leadership, such as president.
Advocates for the change say this is needed to ensure corruption and abuse of power cannot take over the reservation, like some say it did for a period of time years ago.
Although White Earth is an open reservation subject to the laws of the state, the new draft constitution does lay the groundwork to allow more jurisdiction on crimes and investigations on the reservation if leaders there decided to build a jail and petition the state for more
There will be no polling places set up Tuesday, as the election will be determined by mail-in ballots only.