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Tribal Governance and Voting

Indigenous peoples people native to a land, in the U.S. the indigenous peoples are often referred to as American Indians or Native Americans of North America have a history of independent governance that dates back thousands of years before European settlers established governments by force. Because individual tribes or tribal groups are sovereign nations Self-governing regions that can administer their own public assets, their relationships to the governing bodies established through colonization are unique and complex.

Tribal Voting in Minnesota

In the 1950s, tribal leaders at Red Lake in northern Minnesota wrote a new constitution that moved from hereditary appointment of tribal leaders to a more democratic government system in which tribal leaders were elected. In 1959 the Red Lake Nation held its first secret ballot election An election where no one knows who has voted for which candidate.

Tribal members are sometimes asked to vote on a referendum A question or policy that is put on a ballot for citizens to vote on directly for a specific piece of legislation. Today, more and more tribes are voting on hot-button topics, such as on-reservation alcohol sales, marijuana production and sales, expanded enrollment criteria and the adoption of new tribal constitutions.

For example, on August 19, 2015 the Red Lake Nation asked tribe members to vote on whether alcohol sales would be allowed in their Seven Clans Casinos at Thief River Falls and Warroad in northern Minnesota. The constituents of the Red Lake Nation did not support the alcohol sales and the referendum failed by a narrow margin with the majority, 53.75%, in opposition.

Tribal voting was crucial in the groundbreaking 2015 reservation-wide vote of the White Earth Nation. White Earth became the first tribe in the state to approve a new tribal constitution that not only expands tribe membership beyond blood quantum A still-used colonial measurement of “Indianness” based on the amount of “Indian blood” a person had in them, but also sets term limits on elected officials.