Tribe to hold constitutional convention

By DAN ROBLEE

droblee@mininggazette.com

BARAGA – The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will hold a constitutional convention to clarify the tribal court’s role in the community. On Thursday, the tribal council passed a pair of resolutions, the first calling for a convention “for the purpose of establishing a Judicial Branch in the Constitution and ensuring a system of checks and balance.”

The move for the convention comes in the wake of an August shutdown of the court and week-long administrative suspension of its judges, after Associate Judge Violet Friisval Ayres refused to summarily throw out a case naming Tribal Council President Donald Shalifoe Sr. and Treasurer Eddy Edwards as defendants.

Shalifoe and Edwards claimed the lawsuit was an illegal action against the tribe, as they had been acting in their official capacities in holding the show-of-hands referendum former tribal Chairman Fred Dakota had sued to stop.

The lawsuit set off a slew of debate in the tribal council and elsewhere, with both sides citing language from the constitution and ordinances to support their position. Some members felt the tribal council and the president had authority over the courts, and the right to hold back their funding if warranted, while others thought the court should be treated as a co-equal branch of government.

The convention “should make it clear to everyone what the powers are, and what the authorities are,” said Jennifer Misegan, the resolution’s sponsor.

Thursday’s resolutions don’t define how those disagreements will be resolved, but both sides seem to agree a constitutional convention is needed to clarify the court’s role and prevent future crises, as evidenced by a near unanimous vote for the convention.

The first resolution goes on to state that until that constitution is held, amendments won’t be made to the tribal code restricting the authority and independence of the court, and a second resolution guarantees the court’s funding until the convention is held.