Lloyd Omdahl

Reservation ‘Marshall Plan’ requires government reforms

Except for the oil-rich Three Affiliated Tribes, a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Native-American reservations will require new forms of cooperatives, corporations and partnerships that appeal to investors on and off the reservations.

Omdahl COLUMN BOXExcept for the oil-rich Three Affiliated Tribes, a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Native-American reservations will require new forms of cooperatives, corporations and partnerships that appeal to investors on and off the reservations.

Before investors will part with their money, however, they will need the assurance that tribal governments are transparent, accountable and professional. Over the past two decades, tribal governments have been none of these.

The headlines about tribal governance tell the story:

• FORMER LEADER CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLING

• TRIBAL CHAIRMAN FACES RECALL ELECTION

• SPIRIT LAKE OUSTS TRIBAL CHAIRMAN

• CONRAD: SPIRIT LAKE A ‘RUDDERLESS SHIP’

• COUNCILMAN, EX-UNIBAND CEO INDICTED

• TRIBAL MEMBERS WANT TRIBES AUDITED

• SPIRIT LAKE TRIBAL CHAIRMAN DISPUTE CONTINUES

• TURTLE MOUNTAIN CHIPPEWA AGAIN FACE POLITICAL TURMOIL

• TRIBAL CHAIRMAN’S MEETING SCUTTLED

• TRIBAL COURT OFFERS NO HOPE OF APPPEAL

• BOARD CALLS TRIBAL JUDGES INCOMPETENT

• TRIBAL COUNCIL MEMBERS REQUEST TO INVESTIGATE FORMER TRIBAL CHAIRMAN

• FEDERAL JURY INDICTS THREE MORE

Events that reach the media are only tips of the icebergs. Democracy is being mutilated on a daily basis. The rights given reservation citizens by their constitutions are abrogated by those exercising authority.

The lack of transparency and accountability worries reservation citizens.  Because the leadership plays fast and loose with procedure, the citizens can’t rely on their constitutions for protection.

This contributes to conflict and high turnover of councils which, under the present system of informal and arbitrary action, means that new councils can abrogate the actions of previous councils. Investors don’t like instability.

Reservation casinos are generating millions of dollars but tribal councils and casino managers refuse to provide reservation citizens with detailed income and disbursement reports, offering the claim that this information must be secret to keep it from leaking to competitors.

Consequently, reservation citizens have little or no information about payrolls, double salaries, possible payoffs, unwarranted subcontracts, or unjustifiable overhead expenditures. All they get is hearsay and rumors.

Now before non-Indians become self-righteous, we need to admit that American governments in the 1800s were blatantly corrupt. We had all of the problems that are plaguing reservation governments today.

It took the assassination of a president to get professionalism in the federal civil service. A nationwide movement was needed to outlawing corrupt practices in state and local governments.  Then it took a U. S. Supreme decision to curb partisan patronage in state government.

The first step toward political stability on reservations is the adoption of constitutions and ordinances that guarantee democracy in practice as well as in law.

Open meetings, open records and an independent press should be guaranteed, with provisions for swift and certain punishment by an independent judiciary for violations.

The vesting of all policy, executive and judicial powers in the hands of a small group of councilmembers is the root of the problem.  These powers should be divided into three equal and independent branches that can check each other.

The reorganization plan proposed by Turtle Mountain Chairperson Richard Monette in 2002 is as good today as it was the day he proposed it. It called for three branches of government – an executive, a 16-member volunteer assembly and an independent judiciary.

Because it would eliminate the $60,000 salaries for councilmembers, the plan was quickly buried by the sitting council and Monette was summarily dismissed.

Yes, we stole Indian lands. Yes, we should support a Marshall economic recovery plan. And, yes, reservation leaders should provide stable governments that investors can trust.

Lloyd Omdahl was the 34th Lt. Gov. of North Dakota under Gov. George Sinner. He has also worked as a professor of Political Science for the University of North Dakota. His column has been featured in newspapers in the state.