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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Blackfeet Tribe Rejects Constitutional Reform Measure

Seal of the Blackfeet Nation
Courtesy Blackfeet Nation

Blackfeet tribal members rejected a measure to reform their constitution Tuesday.

The proposed reform constitution would have drastically revamped the structure of the tribe’s government by establishing a three-branch system with built-in checks and balances. But that change was rejected by tribal members. Instead, the tribe will retain its current nine-member, single branch governing body, called the Tribal Business Council, which has been in place for the past 82 years.

Dawn Gray is a Blackfeet tribal member who led an opposition group to the proposed reform. She supports changing the tribe’s constitution, but says this version did not offer enough opportunities for public involvement.

"I would really like to see the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council sit down with everybody at a meeting and say, 'let's outline a constitutional convention process, and where do we begin'," says Gray.

She says the tribe is in a good position to begin that process now and build on what people have learned.

"The Blackfeet people have a really good starting point and we’ve got to keep the momentum going so that we can get to change, but we want that driven by the people and not a political agenda," she says.

Tribal Business Council member Joe McKay, who led the failed reform effort, could not be reached for comment.

Slightly fewer than 3,000 of more than 13,000 eligible tribal members voted in Tuesday’s secretarial election, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The final vote tally was 1,279 in favor, with 1,644 opposed.

The vote comes a year after the Tribal Business Council voted 8-1 in favor of the proposal.

Supporters said the new structure would have addressed failures in the current single-branch system and protected tribal members from government corruption. Opponents said the measure would have concentrated too much power in the president’s position and feared the proposed language could have opened up tribal membership enrollment.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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