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Tribal Affairs

Chippewa Cree Consider Changes To Constitution

The Great Seal of the Chippewa Cree Tribe
Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy Reservation
The Chippewa Cree Business Committee is considering changes to its constitution

The Chippewa Cree Nation is considering a change in its constitution that would ease the amendment process.

The Chippewa Cree Business Committee agreed to start the process to hold a vote on amending their constitution last week.

Richard Sanger, the Committee’s Chief of Staff, says it’s about time. Under the current constitution, he says he has to constantly call the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in Washington, D.C. for approval on things like lease agreements and new enrollees.

“Sometimes it’ll just lay on somebody’s desk and you have to look for it,” says Sanger.

Olivia Reingold: Does that mean you have to call and say, 'Hey, has anyone looked over this, X-Y-Z request?’

Sanger: Where’s our water code? Where’s this code?

The Chippewa Cree are one of about 180 tribal nations that adopted their constitutions as part of the Indian Reorganization Act of the 1930s. They include boilerplate language that the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided to help tribes write their own constitutions. But now, Sanger says that language requiring the Interior Secretary’s approval...

“It’s really a hassle because we do need those in order for us to confront modern issues, really,” Sanger says.

Maylinn Smith, a law professor at the University of Montana, says the amendment is needed.

“If you’re a sovereign government, you should not have to be getting approval from the Department of Interior for the operations of your sovereign government,” says Smith.

She says she sometimes consults with tribes who have constitutions that require the Interior Secretary to sign off on all amendment changes, including an amendment change that would write the Interior Secretary out of future changes. In the Chippewa Cree constitution, that’s Article 10.

“Any tribe that still has that in their constitution, my recommendation is, you should amend that constitution and get that out of there,” she says.

The tribe will vote on making that change once it collects the signatures it needs to hold an election. Future changes could touch on the enrollment and leasing of tribal lands.