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Indian Affairs Approves Crow Constitution

CROW AGENCY, Mont. ? Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Neil McCaleb has signed off on a new constitution the Crow Tribe accepted in September.

"It is my determination that the 2001 Constitution expresses the will of the Crow Tribal membership," McCaleb said in a memorandum. "I therefore advise that I acknowledge the 2001 Constitution as the governing document of the Crow Tribe and I further advise that the recently elected Tribal officials elected under the provisions of the 2001 Constitution are recognized by this office for the purposes of its sovereign to sovereign relations."

Crow Tribal leaders received the fax issuing the approval Nov. 30. Tribal members opposing the change asked the Indian Affairs office for a speedy decision three days after occupying the Crow Tribe offices for 72 hours.

Opposition members left the building Nov. 27 after the BIA assistant area director William Benjamin agreed to forward their concerns directly to the Indian Affairs office.

Support for the constitution, which creates an executive, legislative and judicial branch in Crow government has been brewing on the reservation since Chairman Clifford Bird In Ground took office in July 2000.

Opponents say the new constitution does not provide enough protection to land owners, and gives tribal officials too much power. In addition, they have argued that a tribal election selecting legislators from the reservation's six districts was not valid because it took place before the Indian Affairs office signed off on the constitution.

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Crow Tribe attorney Majel Russell said the constitution is fully in force despite the opposition's efforts.

A reliable source who took part in the occupation said opponents are asking for a congressional investigation and have asked a Denver law firm to investigate a possible injunction against the decision.

"The tribe has sovereign immunity status," Russell said. "Who would they serve?"

The informant said individuals involved in the occupation have contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, saying BIA law enforcement violated their rights during the occupation. "They went too far," the source said.

Crow tribal courts issued at least three warrants for arrest of individuals involved in the demonstration, for Arlo Stray Calf Dawes, Robert Nomee, and Harold Hill. All three face charges of disorderly conduct, criminal trespass to property, criminal mischief, failure to disperse and creating a public nuisance.

Nomee and Hill posted a bond and were arraigned on Dec. 4. Both will stand trial later this month. Nomee requested a trial by judge and Hill a trial by jury. Dawes is awaiting arraignment.

Crow Tribal Court Prosecutor Alex Medicine Horse, appointed Dec. 4, said he is unsure how many warrants for opposition members were issued.