Friday, August 1, 2008

Ah, I guess we know a few of those in Cherokee Country

Story on Tribes Misleading

By Debra Krol, 7/31/2008 7:31:57 AM

As a person who managed a tribal newspaper for several years, I have gained a lot of 'insider' knowledge as to how tribal governments operate. Therefore, I feel I have to respond to Howard Hanson's op-ed on July 29.

This opinion essay of his was inaccurate and misleading for several reasons. First off, many if not most tribes have enacted new constitutions as their need for more responsive government grows as their governments outgrow the 'boilerplate' constitutions imposed on tribes by the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. Indeed, many now have the same three-branch system of government as do states.

Even the tribes that still adhere to a two-branch system have established independent judiciaries, and these tribal courts are well-respected by their neighboring jurisdictions as being well-managed, impartial and highly competent. More tribes are enacting versions of the Uniform Commercial Code that regulate not only non-Indian business enactment and disputes but also how a tribal member runs his or her business. Also, tribal courts are engaged in probate cases and some even hold seminars with tribal members on making wills and establishing trusts for their assets. And more tribes are requiring their judges to be bar-certified attorneys.

American Indians do have the same constitutional protections as any other American -- if they have a dispute with their tribal governments, they take their case to first tribal court and then to federal court. American Indian tribal members also have the option of the initiative, recall election or other means of throwing out leaders who are abusing their powers. And they do make use of these mechanisms.

It should also be noted that Mr. Hanson is a member of a group dedicated to eradicating tribal governments even though several hundred years' worth of Federal Indian law, the U.S. Supreme Court and years of legal and social progress made by our great nation. And Mr. Lawrence and the other Indians in Mr. Hanson's group are well-known troublemakers within Indian Country, and the vast majority of American Indians vehemently disagree with them.

In fact, most American Indians who are unhappy with their tribal governments are usually people whose day in court did not go the way they thought they should, and instead of accepting the outcome, want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In my four years at the paper, most of the people who would come into my office complaining about something in the government were people who didn't like how their family member's probate case turned out [mainly because that deceased member had left no will], or who had been found guilty by a jury of their peers in a court case, or sometimes were upset because they had been arrested even though they were the close relative of a tribal council member and believed they were exempt from obeying the law. It became very easy to sort them out from people who had a legitimate beef and were taking action through the political or legal process instead of trying to get rid of the tribal court system altogther.

Please don't be misled by these two people; most American Indians are well satisfied with their governments in about the same proportions as are most mainstream Americans. And they do have mechanisms in place to protect their rights.

Debra Krol, of Phoenix, Arizona, is with the Jolon Indian Publishing Consultants. She can be reached at