TURTLE MOUNTAIN CHIPPEWA NATION: TURMOIL AND CAUSAL FACTORS -- AND A MENTION OF SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY [HUNTER GRAY AUGUST 17, 2002]
Notes by Hunterbear:
This attached AP/Newsday story on the continuing troubles at the Turtle
Mountain Chippewa Nation [Northeast/Central North Dakota] is a sketchy and
superficial account -- missing many of the basic, causal factors.
The Tribe's so-termed "constitutional crisis" is important but symptomatic.
These notes of mine will help, I trust, in rounding out the realities.
I do know this Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribal situation quite well. The
many Native settings in the huge multi-state [ND, SD, MN, MT, WY] and
Manitoba/Saskatchewan region abound with a vast number of former University
of North Dakota students of mine -- and literally a couple of thousand
alone at least are from the Turtle Mountain reservation. I know many of the
protagonists in these recurrent struggles. [My wife, Eldri, has cousins in
the Turtle Mountain Tribe.]
Many of the Turtle Mountain people are direct descendants of refugee members
of the great 19th century Native freedom crusades in the Central Provinces
of Canada: the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70 and the North-West Rebellion
of 1885 -- led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. These valiant upsurges
were brutally crushed by Canada and, although after the latter rebellion,
Dumont escaped to Montana, Riel was hanged by Canada in the context of
hysterical vindictiveness . Ninety years later, Canada issued a
postage stamp in Riel's honour -- but times are still hideously tough for a
great many Native people throughout both countries on both sides of the
This internal situation at Turtle Mountain is simply a somewhat exaggerated
version of that which many tribal nations indeed have been going through for
some long time: e.g., very serious economic problems for much of the
population, heavy cut-backs in always-too-limited Federal Indian funds
[monies which are, of course, Native treaty rights], casino challenges and
factionalism, fast-moving acculturation in the context of a broad commitment
to traditional cultural basics, confused legal jurisdictions, Federal and
other outside intermeddling and chicanery -- in a kind of colonialist
In addition to the very high unemployment rate frequently found on United
States reservations [and Canadian reserves as well] -- on many as high as
80%-90% -- it should be pointed out that many of the Native "employed" [as
throughout much of the non-Native settings in the 'States and Canada] are
merely "sub-employed" [part-time, generally minimal work.]
I remember all too well the oft-violent factionalism at Turtle Mountain in
the mid-1990s. It was heavy.
Through all of this, the Turtle Mountain Nation maintains a basic unity --
not always readily apparent to uninformed outsiders. All Tribal Nations
have that basic unity -- inherent solidarity with many family
characteristics -- and that, of course, is absolutely critical to their
survival and that of their members and the respective culture. And, while
to some extent these internal crises have some "conventional" transitional
dimensions, most of this goes back to Economics: Economics, pure and
Substantial Federal funding -- a treaty obligation -- for tribally-owned and
tribally-controlled economic development is one major, on-going need
throughout Indian Country. And so is substantial Federal funding for the
whole range of human services. In addition, it's also absolutely critical
that the tribal nations regain fully functional sovereignty -- in such a
fashion that they have genuinely full control of their land and people,
their affairs and their resources.
In conjunction with the latter sovereignty point, however the current Turtle
Mountain constitutional situation is resolved, the heavy and always
problematic Federal hand will, as matters now stand, remain for the
In the final analysis, whatever the many critically necessary in-between
steps and gains, vital and living health for the Native tribal nations --
and for all of Humanity -- can only be fully achieved in the context of
genuine socialist democracy.
Hunter [Hunterbear] Micmac / St Francis Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk
Turtle Mountain Tribe Faces Turmoil
By BLAKE NICHOLSON
Associated Press Writer
August 17, 2002, 6:17 AM EDT Newsday
BELCOURT, N.D. -- Turmoil is nothing new on the Turtle Mountain reservation,
where an ousted chairman is fighting in tribal court to get his job back at
the same time federal prosecutors are indicting other tribal officials.
Seven current and former officials, including the acting tribal chairman,
have been charged in the past month with crimes ranging from embezzlement to
Many in Belcourt, the biggest city on the reservation of about 11,000
people, shy away from discussing the indictments, which have not stopped
the government from functioning. Those who will talk about them are unhappy.
Tribal leaders "are supposed to be in it for the people, not for
themselves," said Jimmy LaRocque, 75, a lifelong resident. "I hope they
catch them all."
About three dozen volunteers have been helping the Turtle Mountain Band of
Chippewa write a new constitution they hope will help root out corruption. A
proposal they brought to the Tribal Council last spring seeks to stop
full-time public office holders from drawing hefty salaries and sets up a
system of checks and balances similar to those of the U.S. government, along
with a bill of rights.
The council voted 4-3 to reject the plan, then voted to remove Tribal
Chairman Richard Monette, saying he had neglected his duties. Supporters of
Monette argued that he was removed because he supports the new constitution.
Monette, a tenured law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who
was talked into running for tribal chairman two years ago, is now fighting
to get his job back.
The Justice Department has suspended $1.2 million in grants to the tribe
until the dispute over the tribal chairmanship is resolved.
In the meantime, the acting tribal chairman, along with three councilmen, a
former tribal chairman and two others, have been indicted by a federal grand
jury on charges they took money from the tribe. They either do not have
listed telephone numbers or did not return messages seeking comment.
The Turtle Mountain tribal government has been a focus of dispute as far
back as 1959, when the current tribal constitution was adopted amid rumors
that the constitution would require a fence around tribal borders and end
In the mid-1990s, two factions on the reservation battled for control of the
government. At one point, tribal chairwoman Twila Martin Kekahbah and her
supporters barricaded themselves in the tribal headquarters. She was jailed
in a dispute over consulting fees.
Monette and Les LaFountain, a high school social studies teacher and former
state senator who is part of the constitution committee, say the biggest
problem is not with the people in office, but with a system of government
that gives council members almost absolute power over the reservation, its
money, its court system and the people who live there.
The reservation's unemployment rate runs as high as 50 percent, and
political power can be a path to wealth. Monette said he was removed from
office because he wanted to stop corruption.
"Some even told me, 'This is the way the game works; this is the way we do
it here. You give money to get re-elected,'" he said.
LaFountain says the tribal struggles are like those faced by any evolving
"If people want to criticize tribal governments, look at what's going on in
American democracy, where less then half of the people (vote)," he said.
Copyright (c) 2002, The Associated Press