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OST Constitution

Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted Monday to table a decision on allowing citizens to vote on proposed constitutional amendments. 

After debating just how grassroots a nearly two-year-long constitutional reform effort was, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted Monday to table the decision on whether or not to let citizens vote on the proposed amendments.

The 12-8 decision in favor of tabling the decision and sending it back to the Law and Order Committee came after nearly 3½ hours of debate during a special council session at the Little Wound School in Kyle.

Supporters of the constitutional reform task force had hoped two-thirds of the council would have voted in favor of allowing a special mail-in election where voters would approve or reject each of the 50 proposed amendments.

If the Law and Order Committee kills the vote, or if it approves it but the council later kills it, the vote could still take place if one-third of eligible voters sign a petition asking for it to happen, said Nakina Mills, a Pine Ridge representative and member of the task force. But a vote approved by petition would mean voters would have to either approve or reject all 50 amendments, she said.

Amendments 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 said the current constitutional reform effort is a historic grassroots achievement since the amendments were suggested by the people rather than council members.

“What’s different this time” is the ideas came from “relatives in the community,” not council members, Valentina Merdanian, task force member and Oglala representative, told the council. “For many of the people it was the first time they’ve seen the constitution.” We asked, “what should we change, what do you think needs to be improved?”

“We involved the communities, the students from the high schools, college centers, our elders that have knowledge of the treaties,” Jackie Siers, a Wakpamni representative and task force member told the Journal. “It all came from the people.”

The task force was created May 2017 by the tribal council after being initiated in the Law and Order Committee, Robin Tapio, a task force member and Pine Ridge representative, told the council. The task force created a website, Facebook page, held informational and brainstorming meetings throughout the reservation and in Rapid City, and hosted weekly open meetings for people with questions in the council chambers, the members said.

The task force then turned the most common suggestions into 50 proposed amendments, which were drafted with the help of an attorney from the Native American Rights Fund, Siers told the Journal. 

The effort was funded by the tribe as well as $60,000 from the Native Governance Center, task force members said. Mills told the council that 2,743 people out of 40,801 enrolled members — 19,989 of whom live on the reservation — were engaged and 3,300 people have signed a petition calling for a citizens vote on the amendments.

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The amendments are about “going back to our traditional form of government that we used to have” by making it more democratic and grassroots, Mills told the Journal.

“It’s an interesting possible solution for the younger generations,” Jake Yellow Horse, a 56-year-old from Oglala, said of the proposed amendments. Yellow Horse said he’s excited about the proposal to create an elder council, staggered council terms and changing council terms from two to four years. “Nothing gets done” with two-year terms, he said.

But opponents said the constitutional reform movement wasn’t truly a grassroots effort. The task force should have been run by everyday citizens, not council members, said Phillip Good Crow, Porcupine representative.

“I do want to see reform happen” but don’t want the council involved, President Julian Bear Runner told the council. “I want this to be given back to the people.”

Bear Runner said before he ran for president, he attended a presentation on the reform efforts and signed the petition in favor of holding a vote. But he said he was “made” to sign it before the presentation even began. He also critiqued a task force member for posting on Facebook during the meeting and another one who he said didn’t respect his spirituality.

Some opponents also said they hadn’t seen the proposed amendments before today, questioned certain proposals and said they want the tribe’s lawyer to review the proposed amendments before turning them over to the people.

Lydia Bear Killer, Pass Creek representative, said the proposed amendments don’t do enough to protect Lakota land, while Bear Runner said the requirement that members of the elder council speak Lakota is unfair since some lost the ability to do so due to being forced to attend boarding schools. Bear Runner cited a citizen who said she was concerned about the education requirement since their ancestors didn’t have formal education and some people still struggle to get one today.

Canupa Amani, a 61-year-old from Pine Ridge, said he wished the proposals were written in a more informal and traditional way, rather than in a formal style molded after white-led governments.

The council did not announce when the Law and Order committee will vote on the whether or not to approve a citizen’s vote on the proposed amendments.

This article has been corrected to name the correct organization that gave the $60,000 to the task force for its outreach efforts.

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