The flags of Minnesota's Indian Nations at the American Indian Resource Center

Courtesy Michael Meuers

The flags of Minnesota's Indian Nations at the American Indian Resource Center

Red Lake Constitutional Reform Wraps up Informational Meetings

Issues that affect the Nation’s language, culture, land and resources were the topics of the final session of the first round of meetings hosted by the Red Lake Constitution Reform Initiative Committee (CRI). The committee was seeking input by Red Lake enrolled Citizens and immediate family in the Bemidji area on these issues.

The meeting was held at the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) on campus at Bemidji State University on Monday, April 14, 2014. This was the last of a series of meetings held in Duluth, Minneapolis, and all four communities on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

The Constitution Reform Initiative Committee wants to hear from members of each community in order to ensure that the drafting of a New Red Lake Constitution accurately reflects the voice of the Red Lake Nation.

CRI Community Engagement Meeting

Cars trickled into the parking lot of the AIRC, a beautiful building bordered on two sides by Lake Bemidji, and the gem of the cities many parks, Diamond Point. At the front of the building a large sculpture of Mashkode-bizhiki (buffalo) looks toward the west.

Upon entering the American Indian Resource Center one is surrounded by an environment steeped in cultural heritage and tradition – a gathering place that honors the past and helps shape the future.

People milled around in the lobby of the AIRC before entering the Mawanji’idii-wigamig or Gathering Place which provides seating for up to 120 guests and features state-of the-art “smart” technology along with a full service kitchen.

With beautiful tree lined views, dramatic vaulted ceilings and original Ojibwe art and artifacts, the Mawanji’idii-wigamig makes a memorable setting for the community engagement meeting.

A field stone fireplace is to the right as one enters. Huge rows of windows arced to the West. Large portraits of local American Indian leaders and personalities covered two sides of the circular room with the vaulted ceiling reminiscent of a Round House. High on that ceiling flew 13 flags, banners representing Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations and flanked by the state of Minnesota to the right and the stars and stripes to the left.

Upon registration, each participant received a folder with information about the Constitutional Reform Initiative. One sheet had the main questions of the evening which served as an agenda and a form to fill out seeking the participants feelings on the following questions:

–Does our current Constitution provide adequate protections for our land, water, natural resources and environment?

–Do our current constitutional rules adequately assist our Tribal Government in making important decision about our land and natural resources? If not, what would you change?

–Does our current constitution recognize the significance of our language and culture, so that it is a part of political decision-making?

–Should a new constitution make Ojibwe language and culture a high priority? If so how?

Future constitutional rounds will consider “citizenship,” a broader term than membership perhaps, chosen specifically reflecting the “Nation” concept. We are not members of the U.S., we are citizens.

Other handouts included: 

–The Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers as presented by Gichi-Ma’iingan (Larry Stillday) and a companion piece the “Seven Gifts of the Sacred Pipe.”

–A document depicting the Original General Council of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, organized April 13, 1918, with Peter Graves organizer, seven chiefs and two officers.

–A list of Councilman of August 1957. There were seven sections, each headed by a chief with five others, for a total of 41 councilmen and one councilwoman.

–A 2003 resolution stating that “the Red Lake Tribal Council hereby declares that the Red Lake Nation Tribal Court as an independent body without interference from any other agency and hereby incorporates the contract with the Chief Judge into this resolution.” The court to be independent.

–A Resolution from 1988, a response to the 1988 hearing of the subcommittee of the civil rights commission on enforcement of the ICRA asserting re-declaration of its (Red Lake’s) sovereignty and independence and self-governance.

–A copy of the 1958 Red Lake Constitution and Bylaws.

Before starting a light lunch was served. On this, the last event of the first round, the Chairman of the Committee, Jerald Loud said before the session started, that the previous meetings on “land and culture” had been very productive with many stimulating ideas, and people deeply engaged. Good crowds averaging 50-60 participants attended at Minneapolis, Duluth, and the Reservation communities of Red Lake, Little Rock, Redby and Ponemah.

Introduction, Information, and Discussion

After an invocation by Keith Lussier, Committee Chairman Loud opened the meeting, explaining the history of Red Lake’s Constitutions and Reform. He welcomed all, thanked them for their participation and introduced the CRI committee, all but two attending. Loud then explained the agenda for the evening. Discussion would center on two general subjects, land and natural resources, and language and culture. This was the last community meeting on these subjects.

“Currently, the Red Lake Tribal Constitution resembles an Indian Reorganization Act-era (IRA) Constitution (almost 80 years ago), when the federal policy essentially required Indian tribes to adopt boilerplate, European-style governing “constitutions” in order to be fully acknowledged as sovereign, legal entities by the United States Government. In the past two decades,” Loud continued, “many Indian tribes have successfully undergone the extensive process to revise their constitutions to better allow them to seek progressive solutions to problems, pursue economic stability and revitalize their cultures, languages, and traditions.”

Loud explained that it had been awhile since the tribe had revised its constitution, the last time being in 1958. “We are the Ojibwe, we are the free people of the pucker-toed people” said Loud, “part of the much larger Algonquin Nation. We need to protect our identity, our values, our spirituality. We are Anishinaabe Ojibwe and we must think about those seven future generations.”

A short video was then shown on the responsibility of the CRI, and some background on the Constitutional Reform initiative. The film was entitled Angwaamas! (It is Time).

Michael Beaulieu on Land and Natural Resources

Michael Beaulieu of the Red Lake DNR then made a presentation on the Land and Natural Resources of Red Lake Nation. He illustrated his presentation with maps of the Red Lake Nation Forest, and the Red Lake Watershed.

“In 1918, with the first constitution, little was said about land,” said Beualieu, “it was about government. In 1938 with the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), it still didn’t say much about land. But it did talk in more detail on government; including membership, elections, official duties, and business, but it still said nothing about water or natural resources.”

Michael Beaulieu talks about the Red Lake Watershed (Courtesy Michael Meuers)

Courtesy Michael Meuers

Michael Beaulieu talks about the Red Lake Watershed

“We are not gonna sell or divide the rez,” Beaulieu went on, “so the question is, do we need as part of our constitution, words to protect our land and natural resources?”

Beaulieu showed maps of the Red Lake Indian Forest, the Red Lake watershed, as well as past, current and projected land use by housing development on the south side of the lake and Ponemah, and how that will affect the overall management of the land and natural resources of the Nation.

Regarding the Red Lake Watershed, Beaulieu pointed out that many streams and rivers flow into Red Lake but there is only one outlet. One question from those attending asked if we can insist on clean water coming in from the tributaries off-rez? Can sovereignty be used in this manner? If so, Indian sovereignty might be used to force the state and federal governments into better protections of Mother Earth. “The farmers sure complain down river if they don’t think enough water is leaving the lake at its only outlet,” said one participant, “perhaps we can do the same.”

Keith Lussier on Language and Culture

Keith Lussier started his presentation on Anishinaabe Language and Culture answering the question of who we are. He told of the migration story, and how the Ojibwe moved west until we found the “food that grows on water” or manoomin, that it was all part of the Seven Fires Prophesy.

Keith Lussier spoke about language and culture (Courtesy Michael Meuers)

Courtesy Michael Meuers

Keith Lussier spoke about language and culture

“We found all these things,” said Lussier. “We need to remember our Creation story, of healing and balance, and its relationship to the forest and critters, and the keepers of this wisdom, the Midewiwin. Greed almost took that lake,” he said. “How can we take care of that life, that culture, how do we protect that?”

Not having enough participants for breakout sessions it was decided to have one big open session on all subjects that would be facilitated by CRI members Brenda Child and Tharen Stillday. They would lead a discussion of ideas, observations and questions, and document all ideas to be incorporated into the final recommendations on Constitutional reform.

All concurred that the land must be protected and managed well, and the culture and language are essential to the future of Red Lake Nation and Ojibwe Anishinaabe in general. If we do not have these things, we are no longer Ojibwe, but descendants of Ojibwe.

The Constitutional Reform Committee

The CRI Committee is a 13-member group of Red Lake Band members who represent a cross section of the Band membership. Each area of representation on the committee has been carefully selected by the Tribal Council to ensure the revised Constitution is crafted to mirror the importance of the Ojibwe language, culture, and way of life embraced by the Red Lake Band membership, while also realistically addressing the current and evolving needs of the tribe. The committee is responsible for and will work for a formal recommendation for a revised constitution for approval on a future Election Referendum Ballot

The Committee of 13 are made up of a Cultural advisor, legal advisor, a representative from Duluth and two representatives from the four reservation communities and the Twin Cities. All but two of the Constitution Committee were present at the meeting. They include Eugene Stillday, Keith Lussier, Michael Beaulieu, Thomas Cain Jr., Lorena Cook, Stephanie Cobenais, Sheldon Brown, Jerald Loud, Annette Johnson, Tharen Stillday, Pamela Johns, Brenda Child, and Pamela Pierce.

Background

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.

Over the past several 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.

In order to begin the process, in 2012 a Constitutional Reform Initiative Committee (CRI) was formed and participants appointed.

The Red Lake CRI’s 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.

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.

The CRI’s mission statement reads, “We the Constitutional Reform Committee, will engage and empower the communities of the Red Lake Nation to improve and strengthen the Constitution.

Key Elements:

–Protect our sovereignty 

–Protect our Lands, Language, Culture and Traditions

–Strengthen our economy 

–Respect Biculturalism 

–Increase Accountability

The CRI vision is to reaffirm respect and strengthen ideas of self-governance in the Red Lake Nation’s Constitution, a document passed down to us from our ancestors in 1918 and later revised in 1958.

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Red Lake Constitutional Reform Wraps up Informational Meetings

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