Tribal Council system lacks checks, balances
Our current tribal constitution was written in the days when BIA was the main controller of the reservation. The Tribal Council was very limited in the areas they could exercise authority. There was a sort of balance of power because the Tribal Council acted as a limited legislative branch; the tribal secretary acted as the head of the executive branch; and BIA acted as a judiciary controlling tribal council actions. This remained true until tribal sovereignty came about under the Indian Self Determination Act.
After Mickey Pablo died, big changes in tribal government occurred. BIA was greatly reduced because of tribal sovereignty. The Tribal Council became aware of the lack of any check-and-balance system and took advantage of this freedom. Without tribal membership approval, they changed the council from a part-time elected group representing the people to a full-time salaried-with-perks CEO-type body. This really upset most of the tribal membership. They weren’t given the right to approve or disapprove of this change in government. The Tribal Council ignored the members’ strong objection to this action.
This CEO-type action was followed by another action that angered many tribal members as it shifted even more power to the council. They removed those that offered resistance by “reorganizing.” This reorganization was based on a council-hired consulting firm’s recommendations. These consulting firms commonly work with large corporations, large companies or individual branches or agencies within governments where the check-and-balance is protected at a higher level or is not a consideration. Therefore, the consulting firm’s conclusions ignored the importance of preserving what little check-and-balance that still existed. This action gave even more CEO management power to the council.
Over and over, the new Tribal Council chooses to ignore the tribal membership (citizens) in having any voice in major decisions where members feel they should. Tribal gambling is an excellent example of the councils acting without asking the people.
Tribal members who were eligible to vote in the state elections got to vote on the state’s gambling but never voted on any of the crazy things that the new type of CEO council did with gambling. Initially, they entered into an agreement with the state and were allocated a certain number of machines. They retained some for their casinos and allocated the rest out to tribal businesses. These tribal businesses spent a considerable amount of money remodeling and purchasing their own machines.
Suddenly, the council became greedy and changed it. They left the business owners with remodeling cost, used machines and no right to operate them. The Tribal Council then entered agreements with them to place their machines in the same businesses with a much smaller share. This also angered the people, as they had no recourse or voice. Then the council became even greedier and went from Class III to Class II — again without any input from the tribal membership (citizens).
It is my opinion that Class II gambling has harmed more tribal members than any actions imposed on them in at least 50 years. It has harmed too many tribal members, and the Tribal Council knows this but only talks about getting rid of it. If the Ttribal Council really cared about their people, they would get rid of Class II gambling. It screams greed and human indifference on the part of the council. They should be ashamed of themselves.
When the tribal members (citizens) started their petition drive to force a vote to pay out the rest of the settlement to the people, I was often asked to sign it. I told them that tribal members attempted this back in the early 70s for termination. That completed petition was turned over to the tribal governing body, which submitted it to their legal firm. They came up with the same reason that this council’s legal department has — both times totally ignoring the large number of tribal members’ attempts to express a voice in their government.
If a vote were allowed, it might surprise the council just how many of us tribal members might vote against the additional payout.
Tribal citizens of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation simply have to accept the fact that our new form of CEO-type governing body now controls all tribal departments. They approve all contracts for the attorneys, the department heads hiring and the contract judges. In reality, there are no check-and-balance systems to stop them.
Until citizens of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes can find a way to force a rewrite of a new constitution that sets up some type of check-and-balance system, the citizens will not have any voice in any critical issues.
This recent act by the council again emphasizes their CEO-management view of themselves. It also makes one realize that, just maybe, the paternalism of BIA was very minor compared to the paternalism this council is imposing on its citizens.
(Editor’s note: Roy Burton Jr. is a CSKT member and Ronan resident.)