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BIA: OST constitutional reform petition doesn't have enough valid signatures
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BIA: OST constitutional reform petition doesn't have enough valid signatures


Valentina Merdanian, a task force member and Oglala representative, delivers petitions May 8 to John Long with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

After a task force spent more than two years organizing and educating the public about efforts to reform the Oglala Sioux Tribe constitution, the Bureau of Indian Affairs says the group didn't collect enough valid signatures to initiate a vote on the matter. 

The constitutional reform task force collected 3,564 valid signatures when it needed 4,094, according to a June 17 letter obtained by the Journal signed by Danelle Dougherty, acting director of the BIA Great Plains Regional Office in Aberdeen. 

"Therefore, the petition is determined invalid due to the lack of valid signatures. A secretarial election will not be called," the letter says. 

Nakina Mills, a Pine Ridge representative and member of the task force, said the task force is not yet commenting on the petition being rejected. 

Mills previously told the Journal that the task force would prefer if the OST council approved an election because in that kind of election, people would be able to vote on each of the 50 proposed amendments rather than be forced to approve or reject the entire slate, which is what would happen in a petition-initiated election. 

But the council voted 12-8 in April to table a decision on holding the vote and send the issue back to the Law and Order Committee, which will discuss the issue today, Mills said. The group used the petition method as a second option for holding the constitutional reform vote. 

The OST constitution says the BIA must hold an election on proposed amendments if 1/3 of qualified voters — enrolled members who are 18 years or older who have lived on the reservation for at least one year — sign a petition, according to the BIA letter. The task force submitted a petition May 8 with 4,856 signatures, more than the 4,094 valid signatures (representing 1/3 of the tribe's 12,283 eligible voters) needed to trigger an election. 

But the BIA found that 1,292 of the 4,856 signatures were invalid. 

Five of the signatures were from people under the age of 18, the letter says. Forty-one signers did not live on the reservation while 78 had notary issues, which means the notary seal was missing or the collector forgot to sign their name. There were 181 people who provided illegible names or addresses, and 354 signers who did not appear on the eligible voter list and could not be verified by the OST Enrollment Office. The largest portion of invalid signatures were the 633 duplicate or triplicate ones, meaning people who signed their name more than once. 

If a vote goes ahead, OST citizens will consider approving amendments that include forming an elder council, changing council terms from two to four years, creating term limits, giving more power to district-level government, creating educational requirements for council members, and forming a new He Sapa or Rapid City-area district so OST citizens who live there can vote. 

Since its creation in 1936, the OST constitution has been amended four times, most recently in 2008. Supporters of the task force say the current constitutional reform effort is a historic grassroots achievement since the amendments were suggested by the people rather than council members.

But audience and council members opposed to holding the vote said at the April council meeting that the movement wasn’t truly a grassroots effort since the task force was run by council members, not everyday tribal citizens. Some also said they hadn’t seen the proposed amendments, questioned certain proposals, and wanted the tribe’s lawyer to review the proposed amendments before turning them over to the people.

— Contact Arielle Zionts at

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