Tribal Government & News

Tribal voters favor, but not enough, resolving split-sibling issue

03.22.2019 Dean Rhodes Elections, Enrollment

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

For the fourth time in Tribal history, more than 60 percent of Tribal voters favored amending the Tribal Constitution, but again fell short of overcoming the document’s two-thirds majority requirement.

During the Friday, March 22, constitutional amendment election, 63.5 percent of those who voted favored allowing unenrolled siblings of Tribal members with the same parents be granted membership. However, that fell 3.2 percentage points short of the 66.7 percent mandated by the Tribal Constitution.

A total of 1,293 Tribal members registered to vote in the Bureau of Indian Affairs-supervised election and 73.5 percent of them voted, well above the required 30 percent necessary for the election to count.

The final vote count was 601 in favor of the proposed amendment and 345 against. Five ballots were disqualified for no vote or lack of a signature.

“My heart is sad,” posted Tribal Council member Denise Harvey on Facebook after the election results were announced. “We tried so hard to make a wrong a right and we came so close to making it happen.”

During the September 2018 Tribal Council election’s advisory vote process, 69.7 percent of Tribal voters who responded to a similarly worded proposal favored solving the split-sibling issue.

An encouraged Tribal Council then voted in October to move forward with a proposed amendment designed to address the singular issue of siblings who are not Tribal members despite having brothers and sisters who are and have the same parent(s).

The proposed amendment to the Tribal Constitution would have amended Article V to allow for the enrollment of applicants who have enrolled brothers and sisters by the same Tribal parent(s) who were enrolled before Sept. 14, 1999, and who meet pre-1999 constitutional enrollment requirements. Applicants also would have had to meet the five-year relinquishment requirement if they enrolled in another Tribe.

Tribal Council was unified in its support of the amendment, with all nine members appearing in videos posted on Facebook and six members submitting commentaries that were published in the March Tilixam Wawa. In addition, there was no divisive debate about bundled vs. unbundled since it was a single issue trying to be remedied.

In February 2008, almost 61 percent of Tribal voters favored eliminating the parent on the roll requirement. In June 2012, almost 65 percent of Tribal voters favored establishing a primary in Tribal elections. In March 2015, 64 percent of Tribal voters favored a Tribal Council term limit proposal. None of those proposals amended the Tribal Constitution because they failed to garner the 66.7 percent majority.

Tribal member Angela Criss vented her frustration at the two-thirds majority requirement on the Tribal government’s official Facebook page.

“Whatever happened to the majority vote?” she said. “It’s my opinion that having to have a 66 percent approval is not right. And why didn’t everyone that registered to vote actually vote? Very disappointing results here. We basically just told our children that one sibling has more value than their other siblings. Shameful results.”

In the Tribe’s history, only two constitutional amendment proposals have ever received the two-thirds majority of those who voted – the July 1999 enrollment requirements that created the current split-family situation and in February 2008 when Tribal voters increased the required relinquishment period from one to five years.

Twenty-six percent of eligible Tribal adults registered with the BIA to vote in the split-sibling election.

“We are truly disheartened by the results of Friday’s constitutional election on split families,” Tribal Council said in a collective statement released on Monday, March 25. “As we reflect on the election results, that more than 63 percent of voters supported, our thoughts turn to concern for our Tribal families who will continue to live with the impacts of Friday’s election and the hurt that they must feel. We are grateful to the brave families that came forward with the courage to share their stories. Your leadership inspired us, and a community, to come together.

“We need to consider what our hopes are for our Tribe and a responsibility to create the future we want to see. We need to become the Tribe that we want to be and we can only do that by moving forward and supporting each other. Our work is not done.”