KBIC to vote on amending constitution

BARAGA – Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members will decide next month if their Tribal Council should be allowed to spend large sums of money without full tribal approval. They’ll be voting in a mail-in election on whether to amend a constitutional provision requiring tribal referendums on expenditures greater than $10,000, replacing the 1936 figure with a $500,000 limit.

According to KBIC Tribal Council Vice President Jennifer Misegan, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs will conduct the special secretarial election, and it’s the final step to approve the amendment, which has already been voted on by the council and vetted by the BIA.

All tribal members 18 and older who live on the reservation are eligible to vote, Misegan said. They will have to register separately for the secretarial election, however, even if they’re already a registered tribal voter. The BIA will send out voter registration packets on March 11, she said, and members need to have them back by March 28 to vote.

Ballots will then be mailed out to registered voters on May 31, and need to be back to the BIA by April 19. Misegan said at least 30 percent of those who register need to vote for the BIA to validate the election.

“It’s definitely important to follow through, and a good way for people to get involved,” she said.

The $10,000 spending limit has been a challenge for the council for decades, as inflation has driven even run-of-the-mill purchases above the limit. For decades, the council largely ignored the limit, though in 2014 the council passed an ordinance championed by then-Treasurer Eddy Edwards attempting to honor it with regular referendums.

The 2015 council overturned that ordinance, with a majority of members agreeing it was largely unworkable. Edwards sued on constitutional grounds, but the Tribal Court dismissed the suit earlier this month.

Misegan said she voted for the constitutional amendment when the issue came before the council, and that the new limit strikes a good balance.

“I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “We saw the $10,000 limit put in place (in 2014) definitely didn’t work, and this still allows the community to be involved in large purchases.”

The KBIC has another constitutional amendment in the works, to create increased separation of powers between its judicial and legislative branches of government. That amendment has been approved by the council, but is still under BIA review.

“They told they’re reviewing it and haven’t moved it from their office, so I’m a little disappointed about that,” Misegan said.