Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

from the Minneapolis Star Journal,
Monday, April 28, 1958

U.S. commissioner’s order could leave Chippewas worse off than before, “U” experts feel

by Jay Edgerton
of the editorial page staff

The bureau of Indian affairs of the United States Interior department will soon be confronted by some very pointed questions about what is going on at the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

The occasion is an ambiguous set of regulations issued by Indian Commissioner Glenn L. Emmons, to govern the Red Lake tribal election of a committee to draft a new government for the reservation.

University of Minnesota experts who have examined Emmons’ order say that it is so confusing—to trained professionals, not to mention Indians—that it could result in no Indian government at all at Red Lake.

The Red Lake controversy goes back to the death of old Peter Graves, the “ruler” of Red Lake for more than 40 years, in March, 1957.  Two rival factions contended after his death for the government of the reservation.

The interior department sent in a fact-finding commission and as a result of this two separate elections were ordered at Red Lake.  One is to elect a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution for the reservation; the other is to elect a tribal government after the constitution is framed.

Then came Emmons’ order for the election of a tribal constitutional committee.  University faculty members in the fields of law, political science and Indian affairs, who have examined it, say that it leaves much to be desired.

It could result in the Red Lake Chippewas being worse off than they were in the first place.

The crux of the matter is in Sec. 4 of Emmons’ order dealing with the way Red Lakers shall vote for candidates.  The reservation is being divided into three election districts.  A fourth election district comprises the Red Lakes who now live outside the reservation.  The “Joker” is in one particular sentence of Sec. 4, the experts say.

This reads: “Each voter may cast is vote for any one candidate regardless of the district the candidate represents or whether the candidate is a nonresident member of the band”.

Translated into the realities of the situation, this means that the leaders of the two opposing factions—Rose Graves, a daughter of old Peter, and Roger Jourdain, leader of the other group—will receive the great majority of votes.  Because Indians will be able to cross district lines and vote for any candidate they please, it is believed that Miss Graves and Jourdain will get most of the ballots.

As a result of this, the majority of the constitutional committee may and probably will be elected by a very small number of votes.  In brief, it is believed that the committee to draft the new government will represent the minority—perhaps a mere fraction—of the reservation.

“If each voter can vote for only one man, and if he can vote, regardless of the district to which his choice belongs, how can the election result on any proportional or geographically representative Committee?” asks Helen Parker Mudgett, University of Minnesota assistant professor and well known authority on Indian Affairs.

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