January 17, 2017

Blackfeet tribal members to write new constitution

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) – Blackfeet tribal members are set to begin writing a new constitution with more checks and balances to offset the power of the tribal council.

A constitutional convention is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Blackfeet Community College. Participants will be broken into groups to draft ideas on articles for the tribe’s new governing document.

The ideas will be presented later in the evening, and participants can refine them up until a February deadline.

“The more people we can get to participate and feel ownership, the more success we will have,” said Lona Burns, spokeswoman for the Blackfeet Constitutional Reform Committee, which is organizing the convention.

The convention comes 19 months after Blackfeet voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to rewrite the 75-year-old constitution.

The committee hopes to have a new constitution written to be voted on in June in a secretarial election, which is conducted by the federal Interior Secretary.

The June 2008 referendum vote called for a secretarial election in June 2009, but the committee wasn’t ready.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council passed a referendum extending the deadline. The council has also agreed to put the new constitution up for a vote, regardless of its provisions. Past councils have refused to forward constitutional amendments to the voters.

The effort has also been moved along with the help of the Blackfoot Project, a group of Native American college students who have led focus groups, surveyed tribal members and analyzed what has and hasn’t worked in tribal constitutional reform.

The committee is seeking input on how the Blackfeet want their checks and balances to work.

Currently, if tribal members lose a tribal court appeal of a tribal council decision, they can only appeal the issue back to the same tribal council.

“The people definitely feel our current form of government doesn’t allow for fairness,” Burns said. “They feel our justice system doesn’t work.”


Information from: Great Falls Tribune,