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Our Opinion: ‘Yes’ vote good for White Earth

It’s about time.

We’re glad to see White Earth tribal members on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to embrace a new constitution that will serve the reservation much better than the old one.

Implemented more than 70 years ago, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s constitution is seriously outdated, referring to the tribal council as a “business committee,” for example, and including none of the checks and balances necessary to prevent abuses of power.

An independent judiciary will go a long way toward helping people feel comfortable about how the rule of law is applied on the reservation, regardless of who holds the executive and legislative reins of power.

A strong, independent judiciary is necessary for economic development. It’s essential that disputes be heard in a neutral venue, and that all parties can trust the system to be fair.

The new constitution is the result of years of effort, including a constitutional convention held several years ago.

“It’s unprecedented for any tribe in Minnesota to go through this process,” White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said in an earlier story. “I don’t know of any other tribe that has done this. We don’t have a road map to follow, but we want to make certain, at least I do, that all voices are heard and considered.”

The new constitution establishes three separate branches of government, with a separation of powers.

A tribal president, elected by all tribal members, will replace the current chairman’s position.

The five-person tribal council will change to a legislative council, with the number of representatives in that body yet to be determined.

The tribal president and a secretary-treasurer will be a part of that body, with the president only voting in case of a tie.

The tribal president will have veto power, subject to an override from the legislative council.

In addition, two members of the legislative council will serve constituencies outside of the reservation boundaries, but inside the state of Minnesota.

It’s a major change to give a voice to tribal members that live off the reservation, but up to two-thirds do live elsewhere, and constitutional delegates were right to give those members representation beyond voting rights.

The new constitution seeks to blend the best of the federal system with the best native ideals.

The practice of reciprocity — peacefully working out what each party needs — has always been important to American Indian tribes,

Through reciprocity, the concept of continental liberty is listed in the preamble and chapter one of the constitution.

Continental liberty is based on promoting American Indian concepts of liberty, justice and protecting common resources, things that American Indians had established and respected before contact with Europeans.

White Earth has a multi-million dollar budget, and an active, progressive tribal government that serves residents in all manner of areas.

The new constitution will allow White Earth’s governing document to catch up with the realty on the ground, and give the tribal government the flexibility and authority it needs to best serve the people.