2017-10-04 / Top News

Injunction filed to stop Constitution Revision at Standing Rock

By Avis Little Eagle
Teton Times Publisher

STEVE SITTING BEAR STEVE SITTING BEAR FORT YATES, N.D. –– Citing the tribe’s traditions and customs, Chief Judge Michael Swallow granted an Injunction filed by the Long Soldier District to stop proposed Constitution revision because the Standing Rock Tribal Council failed to inform the people.

“The Tribe had six of the amendments before them in April of 2017. They had been approved by the Judicial Committee and were waiting for the Tribal Council to get 13 members to a tribal council meeting.

“For five months the Tribal Council had those amendments and did not share them with the people or even inform the people that six constitutional amendments were pending.

“While their action met the requirements of Article VIII, they did not meet the requirements of article XI, Sect. 13, the court holds that as a matter of right, the people must be informed and participate when their Constitution is going through the amendment process.”

The hearing on the injunction was held on Sept. 22. Chase Iron Eyes represented the Long Soldier District and Dean DuPountis represented the Tribe, Tribal Council and the Chairman.

The injunction was filed to stop the government from placing seven constitutional amendments on the ballot for the 2017 General Election.

The Long Soldier District argued that the Standing Rock Tribal Council approved the constitution revision without any input from the people, and that this was a violation of tribal traditions and customs.

Respected elder Verna Bailey, of the Long Soldier District, testified about her knowledge of traditional laws and customs of the tribe with regard to providing notice to the people.

Mrs. Bailey testified that in the past, the people and districts had Eyapahas who would go through the villages and spread the news about the tribe and events to the people.

The people would always be informed prior to events happening and if matters were important, the people were asked to come and participate prior to any actions. She spoke about how laws are passed now where the people are given an opportunity to provide input into the language of proposed laws. This was used as an example of how traditions and customs are incorporated into our lives. It was also used as an example of how our tradition of informing the people was NOT followed with the passage of the amendments.

Testimony from Steve Sitting Bear, Chairman of a Constitution Reform Commission that was formed following the submission of petitions by Chase Iron Eyes to amend the tribe’s constitution, revealed that the commission also made the recommendation to suggest that the constitution be changed to reflect a general neutral designation (Amendment 3).

Mr. Sitting Bear provided documentation that each District was invited to select one member from the District to participate on the Commission.

Rock Creek’s representative did not participate on the commission. Diane Gates, was appointed from Long Soldier District, but she testified she did not participate because no one ever informed her about meetings.

Mr. Sitting Bear testified the commission met from September 2015 to September 2016 and submitted a report to the Judicial Committee in April 2017.

The amendments were never acted upon until Sept. 12, 2017 due to the Tribal Council not getting ¾ of the Tribal Council at a meeting until Sept. 12, 2017. The SRST Constitution, Article VIII, requires, “The request of three fourths (3/4) of the members of the Tribal Council, to submit amendments to the constitution.”

The tribe argued that the Tribal Council acted within the framework of the Constitution when it placed the amendments on the ballot.

The court acknowledged that the tribal council acted within the parameters of the Article VIII. The court stated that weight must be given to the traditions and customs of the tribe. Article XI, Sect. 13 states, “The Tribe shall as a matter of right recognize the traditional laws and customs of the Standing rock Sioux tribe.”

The court stated that Verna Bailey’s testimony outlined that it is the custom and tradition of the people to be informed and consulted prior to taking action in matters that are of great concern.

Judge Swallow said, “The Constitution is a document of the people. The Tribe must recognize the traditional laws and customs of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as a matter of right.

“Failure to follow customs and traditions destroys who we are as a people. We have had many things taken from us, forced upon us and our customs and traditions are not well known, but those that we do know, must be protected and followed.

“Failure to follow custom and tradition causes irreparable harm and destroys who we are. Following customs and traditions, will always provide a people, success to carry on as a distinct people, with our own ways.”

“As a matter of public policy, we should always follow customs and traditions,” Judge Swallow said. He then granted the injunction and stopping the constitution revision election.

“Under the Constitutional powers of the Tribal Council, we tried to introduce amendments we felt were important to the tribe, but the judge ruled in favor of the injunction. If that’s what the judge rules, then I respect that and if any further action is needed, then the next council will work on it,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said.

“The main issue that came up during this process is that there is no process for the people to amend the constitution,” Steve Sitting Bear, the chairman’s Internal Affairs Director said. “The referendum amendment sought to establish that, creating an avenue was step one.

“Until the people have the definitive power to make changes to the constitution, a clear and concise process cannot be established. As it stands today, there will continue to be only one definitive way to amend the constitution and that is through the Tribal Council,” Steve Sitting Bear said.

(Contact Avis Little Eagle at

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