General meeting addresses constitution changes

Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum

Discussions regarding proposed amendments to the Southern Ute Constitution was the heated topic at the special general meeting held at the Sky Ute Casino Resort on Thursday, May 14. Tribal members from the community gathered in the event center and were informed by Tribal Council about what the proposed changes entail and how they would benefit the tribe. However, responses were mixed with some tribal members declaring the changes as unnecessary. Tribal Council hopes to address any misunderstandings on the subject.

The proposed changes involve deleting provisions in the Constitution that require approval by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). For example, the Constitution currently requires approval by the BIA before a tribal code or ordinance can take effect. Tribal Council proposed the revisions to allow Tribal Council to make decisions more quickly and eliminate reliance on an outside authority.

“Tribal members need to understand that the changes aren’t about getting rid of the BIA, it’s about clarifying the responsibility of the BIA as far as approving issues and agreements the tribe has,” Chairman Clement J. Frost said. “For example, we used to take our budgets to Albuquerque for review and approval. The change will remove the approval process from the Secretary of Interior. It gives us an effective process to ensure we strengthen our sovereignty.”

“How much involvement do you want the federal government involved in your everyday business?” asked Councilman James M. Olguin to the room full of people. “The Tribe is exercising its sovereign rights to govern themselves. The tribes are making decisions on their own with the skills involved … Don’t look at this constitution as a document you’re going to read just once. We can manage all of these issues on our own and much better than the federal government. The proposed changes in the constitution simply implies taking the approval of BIA out of the [equation].”

“We want our community to know that we haven’t voted on any of these [changes] yet,” added Councilman Alex S. Cloud. “It’s important that we hear about the concerns from the people before Council votes on them. We know there’s a misunderstanding between Council and tribal members, and we want to be on the same page. It’s good to hear these voices and have people on board.”

The constitution was first passed in 1936 shortly after Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The IRA allowed tribes to adopt a constitution in order for tribal people to have authority over their own affairs. The Southern Ute Tribe’s constitution has rarely amended since its origin. The Constitution can only be amended by a vote of the tribal membership at a special election conducted by the Secretary of Interior. In order to come into effect, thirty percent of the tribal member voters would need to vote in the election, and the majority of those voters would need to vote in favor of the amendments.

“We’re simply aiming to fix the constitution so that things can go accordingly for our people,” Frost added. “We’re just trying to eliminate the excess baggage that’s really not needed. The benefit of removing those approvals will speed up our action rather than have us wait.”

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