2018-06-14 / Voices

More Talk on Constitutional Reform


For the last year, efforts to reform the Oglala Sioux constitution have been pushed by a small group of tribal council members. This effort has run into a plethora of obstacles in the last couple of months from politicians who have a vested interest in preventing real change.

The proposed changes, that have been highlighted in the local papers, could have been presented to voters had the entire Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted to include them on the November ballot with a 2/3 majority vote. That did not happen. Those in favor of the change are now challenged with collecting 4500 signatures from tribal citizens

As a tribal-citizen, I recognize that our constitution is a living and adaptable, it should be tweaked often. I also feel that it is an absolute failure by our tribal leadership to not vote to allow the changes to be presented to the people. The people have elected our council. The people have the right to vote to amend the constitution. The people should not be robbed of that opportunity by a select few.

As a student of tribal governance, the conversation that has been sparked by the political infighting amongst the council has been intriguing. It has forced many people to consider what the possibilities are for creating a document that better governs our people’s resources, improves the chances of businesses succeeding and guarantees that our language and cultural identity remain strong going for the next several generations.

I do not agree with all the proposed changes. I think that council representation for a district should be determined by population. Pine Ridge and Wakpamni have the most tribal citizens living in the district and should have an influence on the council that reflects this number. While I disagree with that part of the reform, I agree that our tribal council should have some sort of formal education. This isn’t a jab at anyone, it is a protection potentially built into the constitution that prevents incompetent people from making horrible decisions on behalf of the entire citizenship.

The most glaring example of bureaucratic incompetence within our tribal government is the inability of council members to balance a travel budget. The other day I engaged with one of our council people online about the outrageous amounts of money spent on travel by her office. The response from her was condescending, arrogant and took for granted the fact that some of us have real life experiences that keep us from being duped. The councilwoman attempted to justify her exorbitant travel budget by saying that the Trump administration’s actions required that she travel. Unlike her, I have actually spent time working on Capitol Hill. I also know that we have paid lobbyists working on our behalf. The President of the Oglala Sioux tribe is the person who should be representing us in these nation-to-nation negotiations.

A recent gathering of tribal leaders at the Mystic Lake Casino provides an example of why we need some sort of change. The event brought together tribal nations from around the country. All were there to provide important testimony about the state of tribal nations. While the Rosebud Sioux Tribe felt that it was necessary to send 2 representatives, our tribe sent almost 10, including support staff. Is this the type of “necessary” expenditure that the councilwoman was referring to?

Until our tribal leaders are willing to take a hard look at their deficiencies there will not be any change in the status-quo.

Brandon Ecoffey is the former editor of Lakota Country Times and an award-winning journalist who was born and raised on the Oglala Lakota nation. He is the founded of Bad Face Consulting and co-host of The Bad Face Consulting Podcast presented by Native Hope. Search for the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher Radio, and other places where podcasts can be found.

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