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Constitutional Reform

August 16, 2007, the BIA’s unnecessary oversight of our Tribal government was rejected by voters and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation overwhelmingly ratified a new constitution. It expanded the legislative body to include representatives from throughout the United States; clearly defined the separation of governmental powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; and removed, wherever possible, the United States Secretary of the Interior from the Tribal government process.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Constitutional Reform Project addressed three significant challenges in governmental process and structure. First, the reform addressed the lack of participation and Tribal identity among members living outside of Citizen Potawatomi
jurisdiction. Second, the reform addressed the challenge of decentralizing governmental powers beyond a Business Committee that functioned as both executive and legislative branches of Tribal government. Third, the reform addressed a need to remove the legacy of federal domination and paternalism whereby the U.S. government maintained veto authority over certain
Tribal actions.

Before the adoption of the new constitution, the governmental body responsible for passing laws and conducting business on behalf of the Tribe was a five-member Business Committee consisting of a Tribal Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer and two Committee Members elected from the local Tribal community.

While Tribal members outside of Oklahoma could vote via absentee ballot, they could not propose candidates who resided within their regions to represent their interests.

The geographical separation between Tribal members and their elected officials encouraged a disconnection between Tribal members and their government. For all practical purposes, the old constitution endowed the executive branch with the sole responsibility of enacting and implementing all Tribal decisions, leaving many Tribal members with little or no emotional investment in the Tribe’s future well-being.

Finally, despite numerous amendments, the legacy of federal domination was ingrained in the old constitution. Like other Indian Reorganization Act constitutions from the 1930s, Article VIII delegated approval authority for constitutional amendments to the Secretary of the Interior.

CPN’s Constitutional Reform Project ushered in a new era in government. The new constitution expanded the Business Committee into a 16-member legislature representing 13 geographically distinct districts located throughout the United States.

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