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Separating the chaff from the wheat

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is in the process of revising their constitution.  One of the issues that will be addressed is Separation of Powers.  Let’s take a short look back into the not so distant past to see what occurred when this issue was placed on the ballots.


In about the year 2008 the Oglala’s were offered an opportunity to vote on a Separation of Powers ballot.  The ballot was focusing on separating the Judiciary branch of tribal government from the Legislative and Executive branches of tribal government.  As this was playing out, the question that kept popping up was, “Why is the Executive branch not being separated from the legislative branch?”


At that time and after everything was all said and done, the following is the question that we all voted on; “The intent of this amendment is to establish separation of powers of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Judiciary from the Tribal Council and the Executive Committee, to strengthen the jurisdiction of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and to establish the process for selecting and removing judges and justices.”  This was all good and fine, but there was a catch phrase in the language that basically voided out the entire separation of powers process.  The phrase “and to establish the process for selecting and removing judges and justices” as it turned out, was the beast that squeezed the life out of the separation because it allowed the tribal council to remove any judge that was selected by the Oyate and to be replaced at the whim of the council.


On November 4th, 2008 the Oyate voted in favor of the amendment by 349 for, and 218 against, and with 70 spoiled ballots.  Then the “catch phrase” kicked in… and reads; The tribal council may remove any Justice of the Supreme Court or any Judge of inferior tribal courts by a two-thirds vote…” then it gives four (4) examples of how they can remove justices such as unethical conduct.


The new election cycle allowed the Oyate to vote on a Chief Justice.  Several months after that, the tribal council cited the new judge for one of the four (4) reasons to remove judges.  And poof, he was gone, just like that.  This left the Oyate right back to square one where the tribal council was controlling the judiciary and the effort to enact a Separation of Powers seemed to be for nothing.  Yet, the tribal council still wasn’t satisfied.  They appointed a new Chief Judge, and removed the person, then appointed another one and removed that one, then did that same thing for a total of five (5) times before the end of the justices six (6) year term.


Why would the council remove so many justices?  Mostly because the council didn’t agree with some random decision that the judge made while hearing some random case or maybe the decision negatively affected a relative of a council member.  Once a dispute with a judge begins, the council brings termination action in an effort to get a judge that they can control.  So where did the Separation of Powers go?  Although the intent was good, and the Oyate voted for Separation of Powers, the council prevailed in the end and retained all of their power over the Judiciary branch of tribal government because they are still able to put in anyone into the Chief Judge position that they see fit, then the control starts.


What happened to the separation of the Executive branch in all of this?  Good question, the tribal council maintains total control over them.  If an employee gets out of line, they might as well start looking for new employment.  Take for example, a recent Executive Director.  I saw some seemingly negative posts that he made on Facebook about tribal government.  After the post, it was apparent that this person probably was not going to last very long and sure enough, he got fired.


If any government holds total control within one branch of government like the Oglala’s have in the Legislative branch, then they are opening themselves up for complete tyranny.  The Legislative branch on Pine Ridge controls everything including the courts, the executive branch, the businesses, the taxation, the jail system, the tribal budget, the land, the water, socialism, etc., etc.  The “good ole boys” in that system even try to control other legislators.  How darned sad is that?


Tyranny in the Collins English dictionary is defined as; “a cruel, harsh, and unfair government in which a person or small group of people have power over everyone else.”  The tribal council in Pine Ridge wants to maintain absolute power which is another definition of tyranny.  It’s also defined as a cruel and oppressive government.  Any way you look at it, the definition of tyranny fits the Oglala leadership like a glove.


This government is so incredibly oppressive that they have us living in third world conditions concerning the economy.  I keep repeating that there are only a few council persons who actually understand how to create a better economy, the rest are just in it for themselves and are trying to earn a living off of the backs of the tribal members.


What if, an incident occurred where an individual successfully lobbied the council to legally access some funding to support a venture that was beneficial to a group of tribal members?  What if, a tribal official intercepted the resolution and placed their name on the accounts payable voucher, then cashed the check for personal use?  The person who legally lobbied the tribal council didn’t get what they asked for because a corrupt tribal government official intercepted the money and spent it.  What if, the council knew of the theft but refused to interfere?  Would you consider this event a serious violation of law?  In an oppressive government such as ours, tyranny exists… and let it be known that this theft actually happened recently.  It’s only one of the tons and tons of events that we see almost daily, at the tribal building when it comes to finances.


Only a tyrannical type of government would continue to allow this to happen in the name of “protecting the good ole boys.”  Without the checks and balances of a complete Separation of Powers between all branches of tribal government, where ever you live, there will always exist tyranny.


What if, President Trump came to town and said tribes no longer have sovereign immunity, or even quasi-immunity and are no longer going to live on federal reserves?  All the tribal lands are going to be turned over to the states and all tribes will lose their jurisdictions to the states.  Of course, that will never happen, but the point is, are we prepared for something like that?  Since our governmental structure at Pine Ridge is currently ruled by one single branch called the Legislative government, and that body is continuously creating chaos, disorder, pandemonium, confusion, and havoc on our system, how can we justify ourselves if someone comes knocking on our door to disseminate our lands further?  Under those conditions, we can’t.  So, we had better get our act together.


The Oglala’s are in the midst of revamping their constitution.  They have a strong need to vote in a complete Separation of Powers and to keep good checks and balances on this tyrannical tribal government that exists today.  We don’t need the legislative body interfering with the judicial system or the executive branch.  The legislative body is responsible for creating laws, the executive branch is responsible for carrying out laws and the judicial branch is responsible for enforcing the laws.


I know that many Oglala members don’t appreciate the current system and would rather not have the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) government at all, mostly because we already have a traditional form of government and that is the preferred government.  But, like it or not, we are stuck with the IRA and it will not go away anytime soon.  We have to quit ignoring this and demand that our own tribal cousins, uncles, aunts and friends, who are on tribal council, stop reaping havoc on us.


Our economy has its head buried deep into the sand with nowhere to breathe.  The root cause of this is the tribal council and their legislative incorrectness collecting all of the power to do whatever they want.  Grass roots Oyate must take a stand against this corrupt IRA government and start controlling them by voting in a complete Separation of Powers.



(Contact Jeffrey Whalen at

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