July 20, 1988 - Swimmer Meets With Red Lake Peoples Council

Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

July 20, 1988

Swimmer Meets With Red Lake Peoples Council
Meeting with [Ross] Swimmer and [Earl] Barlow, July 12, 1988—1:00 p.m., Minneapolis, Minnesota

Mr. Swimmer again, will take this spot and answer.

Swimmer: I spent an hour with you-all already, so now you just get thirty more minutes.

Lawrence: We came somewhat prepared, Mr. Swimmer.  We’ve got a little agenda, but actually there’s mainly one issue that we want to discuss.  I think some of the things we discussed this morning already, regarding our constitution, the tribal constitutions, and what status we have with the BIA; and what the Bureau can do to enforce through the constitutions, enforce the tribal council in this regard.  And, there’s some important issues involved in civil rights, and we understand that form what we heard this morning that you have little to do to enforce the tribe to comply with the constitution.  Is that what we heard this morning?

Swimmer: That’s right.  Compliance with the tribal constitution is within the authority of the tribal government, and the process that you have available.  That constitution does not bind the federal government, it binds the people to the tribe.  And, whatever process there is, whether it’s court, uh, administrative process, or wherever you go, to get a resolution out of this, within that constitution.  It should provide you with a direction, to go back to the court, to go back to the tribal government, to go someplace else.

Lawrence: Well, we tried that already.  It doesn’t work on our reservation.  You’re probably aware of that.

Swimmer: I know you’ve tried and did not get satisfaction.  I don’t know that it doesn’t work.

Lawrence: I have a question of information on the tribal government.  We’ve questioned the BIA, we’ve sued in federal court, we’ve got denied tribal ... [sound of paper rustling] transfer payments from the general fund ...

Swimmer: Is there a process in your constitution for recall?

Lawrence: Yes, there is, but we’ve already went through recall, and had the petition denied by the BIA.  We had thirteen or fourteen hundred signatures, so I think that we’ve tried every measure that there was available to us.

Barlow: I’ll have to have my memory refreshed.  When was that?

Cook: Here’s one that we got from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, saying that we had a valid petition, and then it was never acted upon, it was thrown in the wastepaper basket.

Barlow: You’ve got to get him in there.

Cook: I already asked him.  And here’s what happened to our head Hereditary Chief: once he ran against Roger, he was fired.  Hereditary Chief, imagine that.

[Long silence]

Lawrence: I guess I’d like to know, Mr. Secretary, on what basis do you recognize Indian tribes, then.  I guess is what you’ve got me confused.  Is it a contractual basis, is it a contract, the constitution that is signed by the Assistant Secretary.

Barlow: No.

Swimmer: No! No.  No contractual basis.  Indian tribes are recognized primarily through the treaties that were signed, and through acts of Congress that have come down, and through court decisions.  They are freestanding, self-governing entities.  Uh, that is, state or federal laws.  They are subject only to the laws of the federal government, generally speaking, and they retain the same powers and authorities that they have had from time immemorial.  They are not set up by us, they are not organized by us...

Cook: What!

Swimmer: We don’t have any responsibility for them.

Lussier: That gets me mad, that thing.

Lawrence: The Indian Reorganization Act wasn’t imposed on the tribes?

Swimmer: The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) was a method of organizing tribal government.  About a third of the tribes were organized under IRS’s, and the rest of them—are not.

Barlow: But the Bureau personnel put the constitutions together.  I was a superintendent before the ...

Swimmer: Bureau personnel, uh, provided drafts of constitutions, provided drafts of, uh, provisions in those constitutions, and at one time I think played a very big role in how those constitutions would come about.  And that’s a role which I disavow today, and I think that we should be out of it.  I would like to take us completely out of having anything to do with tribal constitutions.

Cook: Could we give you background on our tribal constitution?

Swimmer: Well, I think you just did.

Cook: WE ... I think I told you this morning that our constitution was placed on the reservation by fraud, by the federal government, think we have a letter from the Commissioner to the Secretary of the Interior stating that the people are fierce in Red Lake against organizing under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), ... they told them, “dare not let the people know that they are approving this document.”  Here’s a copy of the actual vote to accept the IRA, 434 people.  And then, when we ask to even amend our constitution, this is what we get!  The government lied to the people saying that they were revising our Chief’s council when in fact they were doing away with the Chiefs Council and putting an Indian Reorganization Act constitution on our reservation by fraud!  The people had no input other than Robinson, and two other people came to the reservation, walked into the Chief’s meeting, and said, “you have no more government.”  And since that day, we have had nothing but a dictatorship form of government on the Reservation by Roger Jourdain—hand-picked by the Bureau to do us in.

Barlow: According to this, you had 456 people cast ballots, 443 voted in favor of the constitution.

Cook: And then, we have a thousand and thirty-six signatures asking to amend the constitution, and it was thrown in the wastepaper basket.

Swimmer: Well, I don’t know.  What do you want?


... other than remedy in the courts ...

Cook: What can the Department of the Interior do for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians—we have no government.

Swimmer: Well, we don’t see it that way.

Cook: Well, you’re recognizing eleven people that are not representing anybody but themselves.

Swimmer: They wouldn’t be recognized if they weren’t elected, duly elected ...

Cook: By fraud!

Swimmer: Well, I know.

Lawrence: How were they elected pursuant to what?  If we don’t recognize their constitution as having efficacy.

Swimmer: It does.  The constitution is your constitution.

Lawrence: And, they can violate it whenever they choose, the council ...

Swimmer: You’ve got provisions in the constitution, that ...

Lawrence: What is the process for amending the constitution?


Lussier: Superintendent?

Swimmer: By referendum and recall.

Lawrence: And they can violate it whenever they choose, the council and Jourdain.

Swimmer: Well, it’s in there.

Cook: Is it?  Where is it?  All it says, “there shall be a, uh, deal for referendum and recall,” but they haven’t done that—there ain’t no tribal ordinance allowing that.

Swimmer: Upon receipt of a petition with twenty-five percent of the eligible voters.

Cook: Well, there it is.

Swimmer: ... and the affirmative vote of eight members of the tribal council, any enacted or proposed resolution or ordinance shall be submitted to a referendum of the eligible voters.

Cook: Well, there it is—we had one thousand thirty-six signatures, and they signatures were validated by [the] FBI.  Morris Babbey sent a letter to Roger saying he was mandated by the constitution to hold this election—where is it?  What do we do?  Were do we go?  To Roger’s appointed court officials, where if they hear our case, they would be fired the next day?

Swimmer: Well, at this time that is the only place that you have to go.

Lussier: Well, I’m only going to say one thing.  I ain’t going to say very much, now.  My opinion is, my friend, that you are letting me down.  Look at the names on that constitution.

(Continued July 27, 1988)

Swimmer: I don’t run your tribal government, and I’m not going to run your tribal government.

Lussier: That isn’t the point.

Swimmer: And, I’m not going to implement your constitution.  You have to implement your constitution.

Lawrence: We did!

Swimmer: Now, you tell me that you don’t want to go to court, or when you do something on your constitution, they ignore it.

Lawrence: What court do we go to?  Where do we go?  It’s just as simple as that.

Cook: What court?  We’ll go to court.  Which court?

Swimmer: Well, I presume that the C.F.R. Court, unless you have other ...

Lawrence: You know, you just contracted it out to Roger.  In spite of all these violations of civil rights, that’s the tribal court.

Swimmer: Yes, it’s tribal court.

Lawrence: So, where do we take it?

Swimmer: Tribal court.

Lawrence: But, the tribal court said, “you don’t bring it in here.”

Cook: That they have no authority over our constitution.  We got that in writing.  Where do we go?

Swimmer: That’s it.  Those are your remedies.  You don’t have any remedies, is what you’re saying to me.


Lawrence: OK.

Swimmer: That’s right.

Lawrence: So, we can do nothing about it.

Swimmer: That’s right.

Lawrence: So, what was the purpose of the Constitution that was signed by the Superintendent, or Area Director, or whoever ...

Swimmer: Simply acknowledging that the Tribe has a constitution.

Cook: Where would you go to authorize to overthrow our government, that is not working?

Swimmer: Where would I go?

Cook: Yeah, what would you do?

Swimmer: If you engage in civil disobedience, you’d go to FBI, or the tribal court, or to, uh, whoever’s the police on the reservation.

Lawrence: Well, OK, I guess we’ve been through the process.  But, if you can’t do anything, why don’t you support us, and introduce some legislation in the Congress so that something can be done.  We have a resolution here.

Swimmer: You have the absolute right to introduce, to go to Congress to do whatever you want to do.

Lawrence: Well, why don’t you support us?

Swimmer: No.

Cook: Why not?

Swimmer: I will not support one side against the other.

Cook: That’s what you’re doing, now.

Swimmer: No. You’re telling me that the present government was elected by an overwhelming majority of the people, and you’re asking me to disavow that ...

Cook: Roger was elected by—he won by ten votes.

Swimmer: Well, then by ten votes.  Well, you’re asking me to ignore those ten people, and support you ten people.

Lawrence: OK, but, we have a compact, or a contract with the tribal government.  We’re saying, here’s the authorities we give you in this constitution.  They’re ignoring many of them.  They don’t release financial statements.  They don’t release minutes of the meeting.  They won’t let us attend meetings. They don’t ...

Swimmer: So, what would you propose that I could do?

Cook: Where would we take the constitution?

Lawrence: Either tell the tribe to comply with the constitution, or don’t contract with them.

Cook: Withdraw recognition ...

Lussier: You don’t even need to do that.  All you need to do is say, “we don’t want to contract with you until you do [comply with the constitution].  Until you do, we’ll deliver the services ourselves.  You have the delivery system.  This is what this resolution talks about, and we’re going to try ...

Swimmer: We have an act of Congress that says that this is not grounds for, uh, disapproving a constitution.

Cook: Where would we take you and the Secretary of the Interior to court?

Swimmer: The secretary does not provide grounds ...

Lawrence: So, there’s procedures in there that, you’ve got to comply with community support, and we can show a lot of community support for the provision of services ...

Swimmer: All that means is that we have to let them know that they’re not complying with it, but that doesn’t give us grounds to withdraw contracts.

Lawrence: In view of the fact that they have denied civil rights, and you still went ahead and approved contracts with them, and

Swimmer: I don’t know that they denied civil rights.

Lawrence: We have said things, and there have been court cases, and all kinds of things that ...

Swimmer: I’m not a judge, and I’m not hearing the other side of this.  You know, you don’t have Roger sitting at the table here, telling me all of the good things that he has done.

Lawrence: He could have come down.  We didn’t exclude him.

Swimmer: Well, I’m just telling you that I’m not in a position to be a hearing officer, to determine whether you’re right, or he’s right.  I’m saying that you have a process to go through, to do that.

Lawrence: OK, you are saying that you will not support us on this legislation.  Are you going to go against ...

Swimmer: I don’t know.  I haven’t seen the legislation, I don’t know what you’re politicking.  If this is legislation against your current tribal government, no!

Lawrence: This is legislation not to contract with them on F.Y.’89 until they comply with the constitution.

Swimmer: No, I won’t support that, any more than I would support ...

Lussier: Stop all the money, stop all the money, boys!  No pay ...

Swimmer: But, that’s just a backing away of the bureau.  And then when you take over, I’d stop all of the money from you.

Lawrence: No, because we will comply with the constitution.

Swimmer: But, why would we want to do that?

Lawrence: Because all we want is someone to enforce the constitution.  We can’t enforce it.

Swimmer: So, you want me to enforce the constitution by trying to cut off the right of the tribe to contract with the Bureau.

Cook: Yeah.

Swimmer: Well, what happens in the next election?  Do you want me to do the same thing to the next people?

Lawrence: Well, if they violate the constitution, yeah.

Swimmer: So, every time the constitution gets violated, I withdraw the money.

Lawrence: So, we have some means of having it enforced.

Swimmer: But, I get to determine whether it’s been violated, or do you get to determine ...

Lawrence: No, the court will do it, but give us a ...

Swimmer: So, but you say, the court’s no good—you don’t want to use the court.

Lawrence: The Tribal Court’s no good ...

Swimmer: Well, what court would be good?

Lawrence: We’ll go to Federal curt.

Swimmer: As long as you get the right decision—it would be a good court?

Lawrence: You haven’t given us a right decision.  You haven’t even given us access to Federal court, except for habeas corpus ...

Swimmer: Well, that’s exactly what we’re attempting to do, and that’s the only remedy that we can offer to you, and I’m not sure that congress will go along with that remedy.

Lawrence: Well, we’re going to try it, whether you help us or not.

Swimmer: That’s fine.  Our position is, that you should have a forum, to be able to go to, and to redress a grievance on civil rights.  And if the tribal court is unable to provide that forum, we are proposing legislation to allow you to go to federal court.

Cook: Well, in the meantime, ...

Swimmer: And, I don’t think that you can ask for more than that.

Cook: In the meantime, what do we do?

Swimmer: In the meantime, there isn’t a thing that you can ask for.  In the meantime, you do what every other tribe does, and that’s just wait.

Lussier: Wait, wait forever, is that it?

Swimmer: That’s right.  We don’t have any other tools available to us, to intervene in this tribe, and make anybody do anything.

Lussier: But two million dollars is coming into Red Lake through the BIA, and then—you don’t have control of the money that they get?

Cook: How did Robinson and an three-man team come in and do away with our Chiefs council, tell me that.

Swimmer: I don’t know.

Cook: Well—I mean, how?  You should know.

Blake: What you’re saying, then, is Congress is responsible for this whole mess, the United States Congress.

Swimmer: What mess?

Blake: This mess that we’ve got here.

Swimmer: Red Lake’s mess?

Blake: This 90% unemployment ...

Swimmer: Red Lake is responsible for your mess.

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