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Delegates at the White Earth Constitutional Convention vote on a motion to revise a clause in the constitution. The constitution was ratified Saturday by a 16-8 vote.

Some shout rejection of tribal process for new constitution

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MAHNOMEN, Minn. - Not everyone at the White Earth constitutional convention celebrated the ratification of the new governing document Saturday at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

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Passed by a 16-8 margin, with 15 delegates missing, there were some who thought the process was rushed.

In addition, there were boos and chant of "power grab" by some in the audience during the ratification process, which was conducted by secret ballot.

"I agree with the position there needs to be a reform of our constitution," said Kevin Shores, a tribal member from Moorhead who observed the process. "But there needs to adequate representation. Right now, there isn't adequate representation."

Shores said that the 24 convention delegates aren't an adequate number to decide the future of the White Earth Reservation.

"There's 24 people making a major decision right now affecting 26,000 members," he said.

In addition, Shores said there hasn't been enough notice of the proceedings, nor of the process of selecting delegates, a point several other observers brought up.

"It seems they were selected specifically by the tribal council and there are questions on that," Shores said.

Shores, when the ballots were being counted, shouted out that the counting process wasn't transparent. He said that the counters shouldn't be delegates. But anyone from the audience was invited to observe the counting process for themselves.

White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor countered the argument that the process was closed that by saying that the constitutional reform process is not a secret.

She mentioned the proposed constitution and ratification during her State of the Nation address last month.

She said that additional notice of the various constitutional conventions was published in newspapers and through community councils.

"Other than holding their hand and forcing their hand to sign the paper to be a delegate, which I will not do, they had the opportunity to be a delegate," Vizenor said.

Vizenor said that there are a myriad of reasons why opposition exists to constitutional reform.

"There are lots of hindsight excuses for not participating," Vizenor said. "That's typical."

Delegates to the constitutional convention were appointed by community councils on the reservation or by expressing interests to Vizenor through advertisements she placed.

"Everyone who wanted to be a delegate had the opportunity to be a delegate," Vizenor said. "I did not turn away one request."

Before being submitted to the tribal members for approval, the plan is for community meetings to be held to discuss the document.

Shores said he welcomes that process.

"That's my hope for something like that to happen," Shores said. "But unfortunately, there's not an adequate timeline when they announce these meetings."

He said he learned of the final constitutional convention last Tuesday. The notice of meeting, though, was published in the March 11 edition of the Anishinaabeg Today and mentioned in an article in the March 18 Becker County Record.

Delegate Jo-Anne Stately said that the process isn't over, but said that it's been open thus far. She said she asked Vizenor if she could be a delegate and was sworn in.

"Erma tried very, very hard to keep things open," Stately said. "There was a constituency that continued to come to every meeting even though they weren't delegates. The opportunity for them to be heard and to speak probably would not have been given in any other type of format."

Vizenor said that she wanted everyone to have their voices heard. She said it's a give-and-take process, especially with voices of dissent able to speak.

"We want to make certain, at least I do, that all voices are heard and all are voices are considered," Vizenor said.

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