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White Earth constitutional vote draws 3,500 ballots

MAHNOMEN, Minn. -- Officials from the White Earth Indian Reservation late Tuesday evening were busy counting the 3,500 mail-in ballots that will determine whether the tribe adopts an entirely new constitution.

The vote counting was held at the Golden Eagle Bingo Hall near the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

If a majority votes yes, it will mean the current Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution will be scrapped for a new White Earth Constitution that contains major changes for its roughly 20,000 members.

Under the proposal, the blood quantum law -- which stipulates that one must have least 25 percent native blood to be an enrolled member -- would be dropped in favor of lineal descent.

The proposed constitution also would change the governmental structure, as the White Earth Tribal Council, which currently holds all the power on the reservation, would be disbanded. In its place would be a new three-branch system of checks and balances similar to the federal government.

It would also mean the White Earth Reservation would essentially break free from the larger Minnesota Chippewa Tribe organization to which it now belongs.

The reservation’s Election Board was overseeing the count.