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Pioneer Editorial: Fair process is separation of tribal powers

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain was sworn into office on Tuesday for a four-year term as Red Lake Band of Ojibwe tribal chairman. But that effort didn't come without controversy and in a way that no doubt will cast a shadow over his new term of office. And that over the shadow of the March 21, 2005, shootings which was cast over his first two-year term.

The inability of the Red Lake Nation to conduct credible elections without dissent threatens not only the Jourdain administration but all those in the future unless the core process is changed. And Red Lake is not alone -- the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, as part of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, seems to hold elections every year to recall or reaffirm someone's election.

At Red Lake, the tribal General Election Board took complaints that Jourdain bought votes, had the band pay for a campaign bus from Duluth and used his office car to campaign. The board overturned the election, ordering a new one.

The Tribal Council this week said no, voting overwhelmingly 7-2 to install all duly elected officials, including Jourdain. Obviously, the Red Lake election ordinance that specifies that a General Election Board decision is "final" is not final. But the board also shorted Jourdain on justice, not allowing him to refute any and all charges before making its decision. And, with the Tribal Council decision, it's in dispute if the General Election Board even had the authority to order a new election. Testimony given Tuesday suggests the board can only order a new election the case of a tie. Any claims against the ballots and counting were dismissed, and on the basis of the count, Jourdain beat Judy Roy.

And apparently there is no tribal ordinance which bars "buying" votes or busing voters to the polls, a practice said to be long followed.

The Red Lake Tribal Council, exercising its right as a sovereign nation, overruled the General Election Board and decided the election was proper. But that's a two-edged sword. The Red Lake Constitution grants the Tribal Council "the sole right and authority" to represent the band, to negotiate with anyone "and to make decisions not contrary" to the constitution. It's broad power, which rolls into one the executive, legislative and judicial powers that are separate under the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions.

The Red Lake Constitution grants the Tribal Council authority to enact ordinances governing the conduct of tribal members and to maintain "law and order and the administration of justice by establishing a police force and a tribal court and defining their powers and duties."

Until the constitution is amended to allow for a separate judicial branch, unfettered by the Tribal Council, which can consider tribal civil disputes on appeal, based on established tribal law, in a fair and objective manner, the credibility of the election process will always be questioned.