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Disagreement in KBIC over Tribal Council term limits proposal

The development of term limits for Tribal Council members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is in jeopardy after a majority of council members voted down language recommended by the Constitutional Convention Committee.

Last December, members of the KBIC voted on a resolution approved by the Tribal Council that asked simply if they support term limits for all tribal council members, without confirming any specific, legal language. The result was 367-146 in favor of term limits.

In response to that vote, a Constitutional Convention Committee was formed, which met several times both in-person and virtually during 2020, according to a letter signed by Sarah Smith, CEO of the KBIC and chairperson of the CCC. The letter was submitted to the Tribal Council, along with a resolution suggesting legal language for the term limits.

The CCC worked with a Michigan State University Extension employee who helped research how other tribes had used term limits, as well as facilitate discussion. The initial in-person meetings were attended by 28 and 26 people respectively, but the virtual meetings only had 10 to 13 attendees, according to Smith’s letter.

The resolution would not have finalized the language recommended by the CCC, but would have requested the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to call for an election on the proposed constitutional change.

The change to the KBIC constitution that was recommended would add a limit of four three-year terms for Tribal Council members.

The council voted on Oct. 14. Two members, Eddy Edwards and Rodney Loonsfoot, cast votes in favor of the resolution. One council member, Robert R.D. Curtis Jr., was absent from the meeting, and President Warren (Chris) Swartz Jr. only votes to break ties. The other seven members of the Tribal Council voted against the resolution.

Those who voted against the resolution said the CCC was instructed to draft language that would exempt currently-sitting council members from the limits based on their previous tenure.

A press release from the KBIC received Oct. 21 said, in part, “The one parameter that

was agreed upon, by all Council members, (original emphasis) was that the term limits would not be retroactive.”

The press release said that the CCC was instructed to develop language that would not be retroactively applied to current, long-serving members of the council.

“The council recalls giving direction that term limits wouldn’t be retroactive,” Swartz said.

The press release asserted that not all of the CCC delegates were notified of and present at the virtual meetings, and that at some of the meetings, some community members were turned away due to ‘conflict of interest’.

“This was puzzling when you consider the fact that there were council members serving as delegates on the CCC,” the press release said.

The press release said that the recommended language was, “an attempt to purge one third of the Council by going retroactive to include all terms served by a Council member.”

The press release said the language presented was not what the community wanted, and that the amendment will have to be altered to fit the intent.

“The Constitutional Convention was convened for term limits, and the council didn’t like the recommendation that they received from the Constitutional Convention delegates and opposed it, because that was going retroactive,” Swartz said.

Loonsfoot and Edwards, say the rest of the council is obstructing the people’s will because they don’t want to be term-limited out of office.

They both said that it isn’t true that all of the council members agreed about whether the term limits should be retroactive in November of 2019. 

“The council is spitting in the face of the delegation that spent months meeting by telling them ‘Well, we told you you couldn’t do this,'” Edwards said. “Well, when did you say that? And how did you say that?”

Loonsfoot also said he participated in the convention meetings and that nobody was intentionally excluded. Edwards said everyone had an opportunity to participate.

“It was fair. We worked hard,” Loonsfoot said.

Loonsfoot said if the committee reconvenes and finds the limit should be different or not retroactive, that is fine.

“If that’s their consensus, then let’s just run and get it done,” he said.

Edwards said they are also working on a petition, which with enough signatures could call on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to organize a vote on term limits without consent from the Tribal Council.

“(We’ll) see if we get enough signatures to effect a secretarial election, to do what the council didn’t want to do, which was to let the people vote,” he said.

Smith was not immediately available for comment.

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