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Fears of federal recognition loss and hopes for enrollment increase at play “The people of White Earth voted for a new constitution.

Fears of federal recognition loss and hopes for enrollment increase at play
“The people of White Earth voted for a new constitution, and a judge upheld the validity of that referendum. So why don’t we have a new constitution at White Earth?” For Lorna LaGue, White Earth’s Director of Constitutional Reform, the question is rhetorical. After all, she’s had a front row seat to the clash taking place on her reservation between those who support the new tribal constitution and those oppose to it. Both sides are polarized, passionate, and deeply entrenched after years of infighting which surfaced in conjunction with the first White Earth Constitutional Convention in 2007.
The latest dust-up — between White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, who supports the new constitution as “the will of the people” and those who oppose her efforts — has taken place in the pages of White Earth’s newspaper, Anishinaabeg Today.
In the December issue Vizenor used her monthly column to explain that a gag-order had been imposed to prevent the tribal newspaper from printing information about constitutional reform efforts.
“The White Earth Tribal Council voted to censor the press from printing any more information or updates on the Constitution of the White Earth Nation,” Vizenor wrote. “The vote took place on Nov. 24 following a motion by Secretary/Treasurer Tara Mason and a second by Kathy Goodwin to suspend all information on the Constitution in this tribal newspaper. I am deeply grieved that censorship and repression of information important to the entire White Earth tribe have taken place. What does such action say about democracy? Regardless of whether you are for or against the approved Constitution of the White Earth Nation, you should have access to all information regarding this important and historic issue.”
The gag-order came at a curious time, given the new Constitution was ratified in 2009 by delegates of the White Earth Constitutional Convention. Four year later, on November 19, 2013, in a historic referendum, 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 rate of approval. With a membership of nearly 20,000, the low participation seems to reflect apathy on the part of many tribal citizens. Still, the turnout was twice that for most tribal elections.
Despite the effort to quiet her opinions, Vizenor has circumvented the gag-order and continued to communicate with her constituents.
“When people in power in tribal government suppress information it is no different than when North Korea, or other countries run by dictators, suppress information,” Vizenor told The Circle. “Our constitution puts into place a system of checks and balances which will prevent the kind of dictatorship we’ve seen within our own council.”
In February, Vizenor produced a full color pamphlet that she direct-mailed to White Earth citizens. In it, the chairwoman addressed her critics and assured supporters that constitutional reform is on track.
“For those of you who believe efforts to transition to governing under the approved Constitution of the White Earth Nation have stopped, please know, I am doing everything within my authority to carry out the will of the White Earth people,” wrote Vizenor. “While the Tribal Council voted to censor any news or articles regarding the Constitution in the Anishinaabeg Today, this action did not erase the vote of the people to approve the Constitution.”
The White Earth Constitution, the first in its 148-year history, provides for the White Earth Nation a foundation for self-government, including the power to decide qualification requirements for its members. When implemented, the Constitution will change the prerequisite for tribal citizenship from the MCT-mandated one-fourths blood quantum, to open enrollment for lineal descendants of tribal citizens.

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