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Red Lake Nation to Embark on Constitutional Reform

The Bush Foundation has approved a grant of $1,542,700 to Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians to support constitutional reform.

The Bush Foundation has approved a grant of $1,542,700 to Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians to support constitutional reform outreach, education and meetings. Constitutional reform has been a topic of discussion for many years by the tribal council. Only recently has the tribe identified resources to carry this out, hence, the Bush grant. This is a great help to a long committed process.

Over the past two years, the tribe has been working closely with Native Nations Institute and the Bush Foundation to begin constitutional reform dialogue with the tribal leadership of the Red Lake Nation. Through several facilitated meetings and seminars, the Tribal Council recognized that the current constitution needed revisions, and in some ways had outgrown it. It was agreed that the document was a major roadblock to successful self-determination and effective governing due to many factors, but needed assistance with determining a way to address the constitution.

"Revising the tribe's current constitution will be one huge step forward towards increased self-determination and rebuilding the Red Lake Nation," a Red Lake Tribal Council member said. "The current constitution could use some work regarding inconsistencies, and a thorough assessment to assure that the document reflects the core values and teachings of the people of Red Lake, not limiting their ability to realize true self-determination."

It was further agreed by the council, that a comprehensive approach was preferred over a "piece meal" effort where a section here, or a word there was being changed.

In order to begin the process, a Constitutional Reform Initiative Committee (CRI) will be formed and participants appointed.

The Tribal Council specifically developed a selection criteria and have directed all participating in the interview and recommendation process to strictly adhere to that selection criteria. This is due to the Tribal Council's careful consideration of – and concern about – maintaining a healthy separation between the Red Lake Tribal leadership and the activities, decisions, and direction of the appointed CRI Committee. The council recognizes this to be to an honorable task and historic project, and wishes to keep it free from political influence, interference, or conflict of interest.

The Red Lake Constitutional Reform Initiative's ("CRI") goal is to revise the tribe's current constitution to reflect who the people of Red Lake are as citizens, with the Ojibwe culture, language, customs, and collective priorities at the forefront of the way they govern themselves. The Initiative's purpose is to identify these collective priorities and transfer them into the tribe's main governing document.

“This exercise in tribal government reform is the ultimate empowerment for the people of Red Lake Nation," Floyd Jourdain, Jr., Red Lake chairman said.

The Initiative's two main goals are bringing revisions to the tribal constitution to a Nation-wide referendum vote. The first will take place in May of 2014, which will be in the form of a ballot question to remove the clause in the current Red Lake tribal constitution that requires the Secretary of Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve any modifications to the tribal constitution. Assuming this ballot question passes, in May of 2015 the tribal membership will vote on a revised Red Lake tribal constitution.

"Having said that, it is also important for the Band to realize that this is a slow process that may take longer than the Bush foundations "aggressive" two year plan, but it is an important start," a council member said.

Community outreach, education, and engagement will be critical to the success of this initiative, since it will be the tribal membership ultimately determining if the new and revised Red Lake tribal constitution will be adopted.

In order to provide an outline of evolution of tribal government at Red Lake, a book has been commissioned that will recount the history of Red Lake from the arrival of the first Ojibwe inhabitants in what is now Minnesota to the maturation of the self-determination era right up to the present day. Subject matter shall include, but is not limited to, the treaty and land history for the Northwest Angle, the Old Crossing Treaty, the Thief River Land Cessions, treaty and harvest rights, water rights, and the Washkish land and water issues.