Rebuilding the White Earth Nation Through Constitutional Reform

Anna Krausová, "Rebuilding the White Earth Nation Through Constitutional Reform"

Republished from New Political Science, Vol. 41 No., 2, 2019,


Native nations are distinct political entities within the territorial limits of the United States (US). In spite of that, the existence of Native governing structures and their role as autonomous units within the US were disregarded by political scientists well into the 1980s. A shift towards exploring Native American nations from the perspective of their separate political status was brought about by scholars' interest in Indigenous-driven processes aimed at reclaiming self-government and asserting Indigenous nationhood. [1] These processes, often referred to as "Native nation building," are not merely a matter of the last three or four decades. Native Americans have had a good conception of nationhood since pre-contact times and in the following post-contact period, they have struggled for survival as peoples. [2] Native peoples' present-day efforts to organize as nations capable of asserting and implementing their own forms of government are best characterized by the term nation rebuilding which, in the words of Onondaga faithkeeper Oren Lyons, best reflects the fact that Native nations are not newly built, but rather continuously rebuilt as they evolve and react to changed external and internal conditions. [3]

Native nation building is a process that involves different rebuilding strategies with a goal of achieving self-determination and cultural, economic, and political sovereignty in the conditions of US legal system, in which Native peoples live as nations within a nation. [4] This article focuses on the case of the White Earth rebuilding process and documents one key aspect of Native nation building, that of restoring self-government through constitutional reform. Placing the study into a century-long timeframe (1913 2013) reveals the White Earth Anishinaabe [5] persistent struggle for survival and continuation as a nation. This is what is at stake in the White Earth rebuilding process.

The specificities of and obstacles to the White Earth rebuilding process stem from the White Earth Nation's unique situation caused by an atypical implementation of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. [6] In 1936, the White Earth Nation became part of a federative arrangement called the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) which joined six scattered Minnesota Anishinaabe reservations (White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Bois Forte, Grand Portage, Mille Lacs) under a single constitution. This federative government design, based on a simplified US model of government, remains a pernicious colonial legacy that continually puts the White Earth Nation's autonomy and powers at stake in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)-MCT-White Earth Nation hierarchy. The procedural obstacles entrenched in the MCT Constitution restrict decision-making freedom of individual reservations, make amending or revoking the constitution difficult, and prevent separating from the federative arrangement and creating independent reservation governments.

To govern themselves effectively, in agreement with their culture and social relations, the White Earth Anishinaabeg try to get rid of the crippling effects of colonial legacies that still persist in their governing structure. These efforts are common to all Native nations that embarked on a difficult path toward asserting their own conception of nation building. This path is in sharp contrast with that determined by the federal government in the 1930s when the Indigenous right to self-government was entrenched in the IRA of 1934.

This study’s purpose is to investigate the White Earth rebuilding process in the context of both destructive (allotment and termination) and reconstructive (Indian reorganization and self-determination) federal Indian policy periods and to explain why the final phase of the promising White Earth government reform of 2007 – 2013 failed. Thwarting implementation of the unique White Earth democratic constitution reveals external obstacles to the planned government reform and ingrained effects of colonization on the people's mentality. My goal is not just to provide new empirical findings because these have limited meaning when they are not filtered through a theoretical or interpretive framework. I strive to reconcile empirical data with the analytic tools of new institutionalism, Michel Foucault's genealogy, and Indigenous studies perspectives. This case-specific theoretical framework that selectively uses theoretical concepts from different research traditions gives new insights into the dilemmas of rebuilding the White Earth Nation. I argue that the persistence of the malfunctioning governing institutions resisting the White Earth Anishinaabe reform efforts is caused by a combination of three factors. First, in the political system of the MCT's governing institutions self-reinforcing dynamics are at work. At the very beginning, they excluded the possibility of a more autonomous White Earth government and prevented the departure from the established path through obstacles built into the MCT Constitution. Second, colonial legacies of federal Indian policy persist in the US government's control over political activities of the White Earth/MCT government. Third, internalization of the colonial status by a portion of the White Earth population has led to adoption of the external definition of identity and appropriation of the formerly alien political structure. This internalized colonization deeply divides the White Earth society and is one of the sources of path dependence, understood broadly as the dependence on the colonial past.

Integrating Native Nation Building into Political Science and Theory

Nation building is a classic topic in political science. In spite of that, this significant phenomenon in relation to Native peoples was, until recently, overlooked by US political scientists. The 2016 Reflections Symposium of the influential American Political Science Association journal Perspectives on Politics drew attention to the problem of neglecting research topics relating to Indigenous politics and marginalizing Native American scholarship in political science. [7] In his essay, "Why Does Political Science Hate American Indians?" the Symposium organizer Kennan Ferguson analyzed the causes of excluding Native American scholars and perspectives and outlined possible ways of remedying the situation. Ferguson recommended that political science include Native forms of law, constitutions, relationships to the environment, nationalism, collective decision making, and sovereign status in its conceptual framework. Six notable political scientists, who responded to Ferguson's essay, agreed on the need to indigenize political science by stressing Native sovereign nationhood and the special political status that differentiates Native Americans from ethnic minorities. [8]

Native nations' rebuilding processes reflect political efforts stemming from the will of Native peoples to govern themselves effectively in agreement with underlying foundational principles of their communities. Stephen Cornell characterized this Native peoples' political activity as the "Indigenous politics of self-government" and differentiated it from the "politics of Indigenous self-government" which concerns non-Indigenous governments' policies toward Indigenous peoples and "substitutes self-management or self-administration for self-government." [9] Recent and current Native nations' rebuilding efforts are characterized by asserting Native nationhood in connection with the Indigenous politics of self-government that, according to Cornell, involves at least three core processes: identifying, organizing, and acting as a nation. [10] Solving the question of Native nationhood becomes the main task in Native peoples' continuing struggle for self-determination which means the right to determine their identity and their own conception of self-government.

The White Earth rebuilding process involves not only the White Earth Anishinaabe lengthy struggle for greater autonomy within the MCT, but also unrelenting resistance to imposed external definitions of their identity. White Earth Anishinaabe collective identification has its roots in the last third of the nineteenth century when the federal government established the White Earth Reservation (1867) which concentrated various Minnesota Anishinaabe bands. Even though this reservation was not their original homeland, the Anishinaabeg connected their identity with it when, in the early twentieth century, they started to "think of themselves first as White Earth residents." [11] White Earth Anishinaabe scholar Jill Doerfler in her recent works examined in detail the question of White Earth Anishinaabe collective identity. [12] Her findings suggest that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the White Earth Anishinaabeg did not use rigid and simplistic conceptions of identity based on blood status. Their complex ways of determining who was a part of their community relied on such criteria as cultural characteristics and lifestyle choices.

In order to gain insight into the White Earth Anishinaabe rebuilding process in its long-term historic context, it is important to pay attention to works that shed light on spiritual and cultural aspects of Anishinaabe nationhood. Rebecca Kugel and Michael D. McNally point out the White Earth Anishinaabe remarkable ability to resist Christianizing pressures of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries aimed at uprooting spiritual elements of the Anishinaabe value system. Despite assimilationist Christianization, the White Earth Anishinaabeg exercised cultural sovereignty through their way of life in which relationships based on empathy and mutual help were not suppressed but even strengthened by Christian values. [13] White Earth Anishinaabe scholar Lawrence W. Gross argues that there is a continuity in Anishinaabe worldview from the past to the present contained in the unifying concept of Anishinaabe bimaadiziwin philosophy. [14] A. Irving Hallowell, who translated bimaadiziwin as the "good life," defined this term as "life in the fullest sense, life in the sense of longevity, health and freedom from misfortune." [15] According to Gross, the Anishinaabeg see the essence of the good life in morality based on such values as self-control, generosity, and respect to all life. This moral system has not changed over time and remains the foundation of the Anishinaabe attitude to life.

For most Native American nations, native nation building/rebuilding is a complicated process of divesting themselves of colonial legacies and their transformative effects on peoples' thought. Consequences of imposed cultural destruction often divide Native communities and weaken their efforts to practice internal sovereignty in fundamental matters, such as citizenship criteria and democratization of self-governing institutions. The White Earth Nation's situation as a subordinate subunit of the MCT has been a source of White Earth Anishinaabe resistance to the joint constitution which disregards Anishinaabe traditions and political experience. The White Earth government reform of 2007–2013 was an act of sovereignty because the White Earth Anishinaabeg acted as citizens entitled to make decisions about their nation's future. In The White Earth Nation: Ratification of a Native Democratic Constitution, Gerald Vizenor and Jill Doerfler, who were directly involved in the White Earth constitutional reform, give an account of the reform process and the complicated path to achieving constitutional consensus among White Earth constitutional convention delegates. [16] The book, published in 2012, could not anticipate events of 2014–2016 which prevented implementing the new constitution and changed the result of constitutional reform.

In this article, I analyze the White Earth rebuilding process in the context of changing federal Indian policies and identify the causes that led to the White Earth constitutional reform deadlock. The White Earth Nation is not the only Native nation that failed in its reform efforts. As Steven Haberfeld notes, there may be more cases of constitutional reform failure than success when the reform runs into opposition by tribal citizens. [17] Nonetheless, the White Earth Nation is one of the few Native nations that managed not only to ratify the new constitution, but also to gain the citizens' support in the referendum.

With regard to the contextual specificity of White Earth Anishinaabe social and political life within the existing MCT governing structure, I use theoretical approaches from different research traditions in pragmatic and eclectic ways in order to find explanations for phenomena and circumstances that led to the White Earth government reform failure. Using Rudra Sil's and Peter J. Katzenstein's analytic eclecticism, this research strategy uncovers links between seemingly incongruous theories and conceptual tools and offers new insights into solving real-world problems and dilemmas. [18] My case-specific theoretical framework combines perspectives and goals of Indigenous studies with Michel Foucault's genealogy and analytic tools of new institutionalism.

Indigenous studies emphasizes preservation, revitalization, and persistence of Native cultures and values because these are aspects on which Native peoples can build their separate identity. In this article, I understand the political dimension of Anishinaabe nationhood as a source of sovereignty and self-determination that empowers the White Earth Anishinaabeg to determine their own form of government and become active agents of change. My research contributes to Indigenous studies in that it fills some empirical gaps in the history of White Earth governance during the allotment, reorganization, and termination periods. In agreement with the main goal of Indigenous studies – "to bring positive change to Native people and their communities through research" [19] – I would like to benefit the White Earth Nation by critically analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the government reform process. Using one of the key terms of Indigenous studies, Gerald Vizenor's neologism of survivance that connects survival and resistance, [20] I analyze the White Earth rebuilding process motivated both by the White Earth Anishinaabe resistance to the imposed form of government and by their efforts to practice sovereignty in vital matters. Through this strategy, the White Earth Anishinaabeg exercise the Indigenous politics of self-government which Stephen Cornell defines as "an attempt to give political force to Indigenous nationhood." [21]

Applying Foucault's genealogy in my research sharpens critical perspectives of Indigenous studies. Foucault's genealogy is close to Vizenor's understanding of dominant historical discourses as tools of dominance. [22] Through its critical interest in the present, the genealogical method focuses on identifying historical conditions which gave rise to and still affect present-day power relations and practices. Foucault uses retrospective analyses of present systems "to show, based upon their historical establishment and formation, those systems which are still ours today and within which we are trapped." [23] It is possible to understand the persistence of inefficient MCT governing institutions, that are still in place as legacies of colonial dominance, when we take into account the internalization of the formerly alien governing structure by a portion of the White Earth population. I use the genealogical approach to analyze the micro-practices of power in the interactions between BIA field officials and MCT representatives. I reveal power relations and coercion practices hidden behind seemingly free Minnesota Anishinaabe decision to subject internal matters of the six reservations to plenary power of the MCT. Focusing on the past with the goal to understand the present requires examining archival documents which Foucault prefers to other forms of research. [24] My data come from the research conducted at the National Archives (NARA) in Kansas City, Missouri, the study of archival newspapers made available by the Minnesota Historical Society in Minneapolis, and from recent Anishinaabe newspapers. The NARA collections I studied are archived as record group 75 and contain records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Consolidated Chippewa Agency and Minneapolis Area Office. On the one hand, archival documents provide detailed empirical material in some cases, while on the other, they are often incomplete, chaotic, misfiled, missing, and sometimes hardly readable. BIA records create a false impression of smooth cooperation between BIA Agency officials and MCT representatives. Anishinaabe discontent with BIA's policy only rarely came out into the open because much contention in debates was deliberately not put on file. [25] 

In its emphasis on the study of archival documents, the genealogical approach is in agreement with new institutionalism, which for the past three decades has been more attentive to temporal dimensions of political processes. The use of archival data in my research is justified by the fact that the White Earth Anishinaabe rebuilding process unfolds over several decades which makes it impossible to study solely in the contemporary context. Archival documents did not always provide sufficiently deep knowledge of empirical material, yet they allow insight into the past necessary for investigating the development of White Earth governance over time and considering the possibilities of path dependence. The term path dependence is connected with processes that stretch over long time periods and have far-reaching effects on the path of institutional development and distribution of political authority. Using path dependence, it is possible to search for answers to the question of why institutions persist even though they are no longer efficient. [26] Paul Pierson explains institutional persistence in terms of self-reinforcing processes in which existing structures generate positive feedback effects to political actors and entrench their interests so that the departure from the established path becomes less likely over time. [27] My application of path dependence to the White Earth rebuilding process uses a broad conception of this term as the dependence of the current state of Anishinaabe governing institutions on the state instituted at the time of their creation. Pierson stresses the role of timing and sequencing in path-dependent processes and argues that " when an event occurs may be crucial. Because earlier parts of a sequence matter much more than later parts, an event that happens 'too late' may have no effect, although it might have been of great consequence if the timing had been different." [28] Timing is especially relevant when analyzing the White Earth rebuilding process because it offers one of the possible explanations for the numerous vain attempts made by the Anishinaabeg in the course of nearly eight decades to reverse the institutional path initiated in 1936 under the IRA provisions. I, therefore, pay attention to early events that have causal power despite substantial temporal distance. These early events correspond with critical junctures, periods in which important decisions determine the path of institutional development and mark the beginning of path-dependent processes. [29] I do not use path dependence in a deterministic sense ruling out the possibility of change, nor in the sense of strictly causal relations between individual events. I accept the more recent view of new institutionalists that change and stability of institutions are inextricably linked because in periods of what appears to be institutional stability, gradual endogenous transformations operate. [30]

One of the strengths of new institutionalism is its applicability not only to Western liberal democracies because it does "not make any assumptions about the shape of political institutions or the values they embody." [31] Another strength lies in its emphasis on informal practices and unwritten conventions that play the same or even a greater role in institutional dynamics as formal rules. [32] For the White Earth Anishinaabeg, informal institutions were important for strengthening community ties and in certain periods they even substituted formal ones.

My research extends the applicability of new institutionalism and its analytic tools to complex nation building processes in Native American nations. Broadening the new institutionalist empirical framework to Native American governing structures can contribute both to the fields of political science and Indigenous studies. In the following section, I apply the theoretical/methodological approaches outlined above to the history of White Earth Anishinaabe reform efforts in order to understand and explain possible reasons why the White Earth constitutional reform of 2007–2013, initially perceived by White Earth citizens and scholars as successful and complete, turned a full circle back to the stage before the constitutional reform.


Evolution of the White Earth Rebuilding Process

The Allotment Period: The White Earth Nation as Part of the General Council of the Chippewa

The pre-IRA history is connected with the establishment of the General Council of the Chippewa in 1913, the first constitutional government which joined several Anishinaabe reservations, including White Earth, into a loose coalition. In the era before federally supported self-governance, numerous Native nations tried to deal with erosive pressures of assimilation policy by creating constitutional forms of government. [33] To speed up the assimilation of Native people into American society, government officials encouraged organizing a new type of Native governments, the so-called "business councils." [34] This type of government allowed the coexistence of a constitutional model and an elective council with practicing certain elements of traditional governance.

The General Council of the Chippewa came into being as a reaction to the allotment policy which deprived Anishinaabe reservations of a substantial part of their land base; the White Earth Reservation lost more than ninety percent of its acreage. [35] Through the General Council, the Minnesota Anishinaabeg wanted to defend themselves against illegal practices on the part of the BIA, especially against the violations of the Nelson Act of 1889 that was supposed to protect remaining reservation resources and money obtained from sales of ceded lands. [36]

The General Councilconnected two different governing approaches by combining elements of traditional Anishinaabe governance and American-style representational system. The relationship between old (traditional) and newly instituted ways of governance that could be termed "intercurrence" [37] reflects the General Council's functioning in the short period of its existence (1913 1927) . Old and new approaches to governance were evident in disputes between politically divided leadership factions on all Anishinaabe reservations. Factional division did not follow racial lines, but it was caused by different cultural orientations and economic behaviors. [38] These factions that finally formed separate councils, the "full blood" and the "mixed-blood" councils, met separately from 1919 to 1927. [39] In spite of this division, both factions played irreplaceable roles in the General Council's existence.

"Mixed-blood" council representatives were dissatisfied with the federal guardianship implemented by the BIA which interfered in the majority of local Anishinaabe affairs. The scope of the external encroachment was expressed in the words of Superintendent P. R. Wadsworth: "If we are to give attention to a council by the Chippewas it should be a council called and controlled by us." [40] The "Mixed-blood" council's criticism was directed at illegal, inefficient, and dishonest practices of BIA officials who abused their powers and financed the BIA's operation in Minnesota out of the Anishinaabe trust fund. [41] On the one hand, "mixed-blood" council representatives as small entrepreneurs were in a better position to negotiate with BIA officials. On the other, they were more detached from the daily struggles and troubles of reservation communities.

Topics discussed at "full-blood" council meetings pertained mainly to ensuring communities' material needs because after allotment, the White Earth Anishinaabeg had limited access to areas containing seasonal resources. The main concern of this council's representatives related to land and the Anishinaabe right to use renewable resources for subsistence in accordance with treaties. [42] Dependence on land, connected with traditional practices, mainly with wild rice harvesting, making maple sugar, hunting, and fishing, was not merely a strategy to survive. It was part of the "circle of life," [43] based on bimaadiziwin ethics that governed human relationships and social life.

The General Council was significant from the perspective of later development of White Earth governance, I argue, for the following three reasons. First, the General Council preserved certain Anishinaabe governance practices that later served as an inspiration and guidance in future reform efforts. These practices were based on applying bimaadiziwin principles, such as responsibility to the community and ethical and cooperative relationships. These principles manifested themselves in council meetings open to a plurality of standpoints and consensual decision making. [44] Second, creating the General Council w as the first critical juncture, a starting point on the trajectory toward the 1936 formation of the MCT. Third, t he General Council represented the beginning of the White Earth Nation's path to modern constitutional government.

The Reorganization and Termination Periods: The White Earth Nation as Part of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe

The direction of White Earth government's institutional development was fundamentally affected by the White Earth Nation's incorporation into the joint governing body of the MCT in 1936. This development was brought about by the shift in federal Indian policy in the 1930s away from assimilation to recognition of Native peoples' inherent right to self-government. The White Earth Anishinaabeg, in common with the other five Anishinaabe reservations, accepted the IRA provisions with the expectation that the new legislation would give them real decision-making powers in their affairs and the opportunity to escape the system in which the BIA controlled all aspects of their lives.

In regard to the Anishinaabe reservations' way of organizing under the IRA, the BIA office in Washington, DC expected that each reservation would create a separate government in accordance with Section 16 of the IRA which identified a reservation with a tribe. [45] By contrast, Consolidated Chippewa Agency personnel urged the creation of a joint governing body and argued that the situation of Anishinaabe reservations was unique due to their joint interest in lands, property, and funds which only the tribe as a whole could handle. [46]

Early events around the decision making about organizing Anishinaabe reservations under the IRA deserve heightened attention because they had a greater causal effect than later events. In the sequence of early events, the most important point in time was the meeting of June 27, 1935, when Anishinaabe delegates, selected and convened by Agency employees, consented to an already prepared plan for a joint centralized government. [47] Instead of six separate reservation governments suiting local conditions, Agency officials proposed a solution that simplified their administrative control over Minnesota Anishinaabe governance affairs. [48] Evidence exists that the meeting was manipulated. Invitations to the meeting were extended only to delegates who favored organizing into a single governing body and those from dissenting communities were not represented. [49] Delegates received insufficient and misleading information about the implications of their decision. They were expressly summoned to "organize into a General Council" [50] which gave the delegates the wrong impression that the new political arrangement would work similarly to the former decentralized inter-reservation coalition that had allowed individual reservations to operate independently.

The June 27, 1935 meeting opened the second critical juncture in which the decisions made were strongly influenced by the joint Anishinaabe path initiated in the first critical juncture. The second critical juncture between June 27, 1935, when Anishinaabe delegates adopted the draft constitution and June 20, 1936, when the MCT Constitution was ratified on each reservation, was a time of openings for change. Nonetheless, objections regarding serious legal difficulties in ensuring local autonomy and local land rights under the central MCT government, made by top BIA officials in Washington, DC in July and August 1935, were disregarded by the Consolidated Chippewa Agency. [51] In March 1936, Assistant Commissioner Zimmerman's objection that the final version of the constitution did not mention reservation organizations was "solved" by adding a vague article that did not ensure independent functioning of reservation councils. [52] This brief account of the second critical juncture period suggests that events following June 27, 1935, had no effect on the course of institutional development. Individual reservations lost much of their autonomy and their needs and interests were subordinated to the central government. Initial steps toward the joint governing organization encouraged further movement in the same direction and initiated path-dependent processes.

The MCT's governing structure differed substantially from the previous system of governance. This change in Anishinaabe governance can be characterized as an exogenously caused displacement [53]that replaced the pre-existing system of autonomous political units by a culturally alien model. The MCT Constitution disregarded Anishinaabe traditions and political experience. Nowhere in the Constitution is Anishinaabe identity defined from the perspective of Anishinaabe history, beliefs, and values. [54] The autonomy of individual reservations was substantially limited by centralizing power in the twelve-member Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) in which president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer handled executive functions. The White Earth Reservation Council, which from 1939 functioned under the White Earth Charter, was composed of nine members chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, treasurer, and five councilmen. [55] While the Charter formally delegated power to the White Earth Council to administer reservation lands, this power was, in fact, limited or sometimes eliminated by the MCT. [56]

My reading of official documents does not see the White Earth Anishinaabeg as passive recipients of imposed changes. Their resistance to the ratification of the MCT Constitution is clear from official accounts despite Agency officials' efforts to conceal evidence of disagreement. [57] Similarly, the White Earth Anishinaabe resistance to the White Earth Charter [58] and repeated efforts to amend the Constitution [59] give evidence of the fact that both organic documents were not efficient tools of self-government, but rather federal government's tools of control over Minnesota Anishinaabe activities.

The difficulty of institutional change after the Minnesota Anishinaabeg adopted the federative arrangement was caused mainly by the following five factors:

1. Procedural obstacles inserted into the MCT Constitution by the BIA: the most restrictive ones were the provisions for amending or revoking the Constitution and for making membership rules, both subject to Secretarial approval.

2. Absence of checks and balances in one-branch government.

3. Only one-year terms of office.

4. Reproduction of the MCT governing structure was maintained by newly created artificial elites subordinated to the BIA supervision and willing to preserve the status quo.

5. The tendency to path dependency in federal Indian policy: Agency officials exercised their control over the MCT and reservation governments with unchanged administrative inertia.

The termination policy (1942 1965), which aimed at elimination of Native governments and complete integration of Native people into the American mainstream, had serious consequences on the White Earth Anishinaabeg and the MCT as a whole even though they escaped termination. One of these negative effects was the transfer of criminal and civil jurisdiction over the MCT reservations from the federal government to the State of Minnesota under Public Law 280 of 1953. [60] The state law enforcement encroached on Anishinaabe property rights on lands held in trust by the United States and violated treaty hunting, trapping, and fishing rights. [61] This attack on Anishinaabe treaty rights was part of the termination policy's strategy focused on cultural transformation of Native people, tearing their ties with homelands, and the loss of Native identity.

Archival data provide clear evidence of the decline in the MCT governance during the late 1940s and in the 1950s that was connected with the federal government's intention to gradually relieve individual MCT reservations of federal supervision. [62] In agreement with this strategy, some MCT officials were given greater powers to handle tribal funds. The newly created function of tribal manager was not clearly defined and led to mismanagement of tribal funds. [63] A network of political actors who enriched themselves at tribal expense created a clientelist environment around the manager which was undermining the functioning of the MCT government. [64]

In the termination period, self-reinforcing processes kept the formal structure of the MCT government unchanged, yet it was transformed through hidden forms of institutional change, drift and conversion. [65] The change of federal Indian policy altered effects of formal rules in the MCT Constitution, but amending the constitution proved impossible because of intratribal conflicts. [66] This form of institutional change, called drift, became a permanent phenomenon in the MCT government. Some MCT representatives took advantage of the impossibility to update the MCT rules and changed the effects of those rules to serve their own ends. This hidden change, called conversion, together with drift maintained the institutional status quo.

In contrast with the MCT government which was negatively affected by the change of Indian policy, Anishinaabe practices, customs, and socially shared rules remained unaffected. They functioned as complementary informal institutions supporting White Earth governance. Specifically, they made up for failures in the operation of formal institutions, when welfare services transferred from the federal government to the state were inadequate or lacking. [67]

Termination policymakers presented the termination policy as an opportunity to achieve self-determination, but, in fact, they misused this idea against Native people. White Earth Anishinaabeg struggled for their self-determination in their acts of resistance. At a House of Representatives Committee meeting on June 18, 1956, they successfully resisted the manipulations and fabricated claims of BIA officials who tried to push through passage of termination legislation containing a termination clause for the MCT. [68] With the same resilience White Earth Anishinaabeg and the whole MCT resisted the BIA imposed membership criteria and defended their right to determine their identity on the basis of their cultural values. [69]

Institutional changes that occurred in the MCT government in the termination period continued into the self-determination period and caused serious problems in White Earth governance. Even though the MCT Constitution was revised in 1964, it maintained the IRA format created by the BIA in 1936, including many of its structural shortcomings. [70] Power remained centralized in the TEC while Reservation Councils, renamed to Reservation Business Committees (RBC), were subordinated to its central decision making. Unlike the 1936 constitution which avoided explicit racial criteria for tribal membership, the MCT, under the threat of termination, succumbed to federal pressure and included the requirement of one-quarter Minnesota Chippewa Indian blood in the Revised Constitution.

The Self-Determination Period: The White Earth Nation's Struggle for Government Reform

In the 1970s, the self-determination policy encouraged the White Earth Anishinaabeg in their activities aimed at long-term goals. The White Earth RBC strove to create good leadership with a clear idea of what needed to be done for good governance and improvement of reservation life. These efforts corresponded with gradual endogenous transformations that appeared in White Earth governance in the 1970s and 1990s. The creation of the White Earth Conservation Court in October 1979 was the first step of the White Earth RBC toward strengthening reservation governance. [71] It was a reaction to the White Earth Anishinaabe victory in the case of State v. Clark (1979) in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that state game and fish laws could not be enforced against enrolled White Earth Anishinaabeg within the boundaries of the White Earth Reservation. [72] The creation of the White Earth Tribal Court in 1997 was an even more important act of internal sovereignty because this court that handles civil matters does not follow state court procedures and state laws. [73] It has its own judicial code which follows Anishinaabe customs and traditional law. [74] By creating this court and adopting White Earth Customary Adoption Code, the White Earth Anishinaabeg acted as a nation responsible for continuing its culture, language, tradition, and values through its children. [75]

New federal policy of the 1970s strengthened the MCT government and allowed tribal representatives greater involvement in decision making and policy. [76] Broadening the MCT government's powers again pointed to weaknesses of the MCT Revised Constitution which became inadequate in the conditions of self-determination policy because it did not provide the TEC with tools to deal with new legislative and administrative processes. Without checks and balances, the MCT government was prone to proliferation of informal subversive institutions, that of clientelism and corruption. An extensive network of clientelist relationships around Darrell "Chip" Wadena, MCT president (1978 1994) and concurrently White Earth RBC chairman (1976–1996), created power asymmetries that, in the long run, were amplifying through the positive feedback. Wadena kept himself in power through election fraud for twenty years and ignored constitutional procedures allowing his removal from office. [77] Corrupt political actors exercised their powers in excess of those set forth in the MCT Constitution and willfully changed the rules of the game both in MCT and reservation governance. The processes of drift and conversion that first appeared in the MCT governance in the termination period were also behind the changing institutional effects in the conditions of the self-determination policy. MCT representatives formally declared that constitutional revision was needed but they intentionally kept the MCT Constitution unchanged and used the ambiguity of its provisions to change their meaning through their own interpretations. [78]

Repeated efforts of the TEC to silence the opposition that called for democratic reform of governing institutions and Wadena's resignation seriously put into question the legitimacy of the MCT government. People went into open opposition and in July 1991, they initiated a five-year reform movement known as Camp Justice. [79] Dr. Erma Vizenor, later White Earth chairwoman, who organized the protest was arrested together with twenty-eight others. Camp Justice became a catalyst of political life which grew from real needs and wishes of the White Earth Anishinaabeg expressed in Eugene McArthur's words, "We must regain our democracy. We want justice and an open form of our government." [80] From July to December 1991, the White Earth Anishinaabeg maintained an experimental community devoted to Anishinaabe practices of free expression and sharing of views. Their discussions led them to the conviction that political remedy was not possible without underlying social and spiritual restoration. The Camp Justice movement shows that the Anishinaabe worldviews and philosophy, hidden under the surface of internalized values of Western society, emerged when the people rediscovered the values of their own culture and identity.

Camp Justice initiated a community dialogue aimed at finding common ground to turn the White Earth government into a democratic institution capable of self-governing in agreement with the values of Anishinaabe political culture. After Wadena's and two White Earth RBC members' sentencing to prison in June 1996, [81] some dissidents were elected as new White Earth representatives and used their positions to propose specific reform steps toward nation rebuilding. Two constitutional reform efforts in 1998 and from 2007 2013 were connected with Dr. Erma Vizenor's work in the White Earth government as secretary/treasurer (1996 2002) and chairwoman (2004 2015).

The first attempt at government reform ended up at the stage of a draft constitution prepared by an independent committee in February 1998. [82] The draft constitution did not meet with White Earth people's support even though it offered the opportunity to put an end to political pathologies by instituting a four-branch government with specific types of checks and balances drawing on traditional Anishinaabe governing forms. The failure of the first constitutional reform certainly had many causes, but what should not be underestimated was the long-term experience of the White Earth Anishinaabeg with civil rights violations which resulted in questioning the merit of their civic engagement.

The second reform process that comprised four constitutional conventions between 2007 and 2009 followed a clear goal of creating a separate White Earth government independent of the MCT. The result of this process was the Constitution of the White Earth Nation (CWEN) that joined the intellectual abilities and political experience of the Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor with practical experience of forty constitutional convention delegates nominated by White Earth communities. [83] Despite delegates' differences and diverse views that made their debates difficult, consensus was achieved and the CWEN was ratified by two-thirds of the delegates present at the fourth convention on April 4, 2009. [84] The new constitution was subject to popular ratification by referendum on November 19, 2013. Even though the CWEN was adopted by nearly eighty percent of White Earth voters, [85] it was not implemented and did not set a new institutional trajectory for White Earth governance.

Through the second constitution-making process, the White Earth Anishinaabeg expressed their intention to identify and organize as a nation. Collective White Earth Anishinaabe identification is articulated in the constitution's preamble which says who constitutes the White Earth Nation in terms of shared values, history, and culture. [86] To ensure White Earth Anishinaabe survival as a nation and in agreement with Anishinaabe understanding of identity, the CWEN specifies basic criteria for citizenship on the basis of family descent. [87] By including democratic electoral rules and ideas of human rights inspired by the Magna Carta, the US Bill of Rights, and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, the CWEN contains features of the liberal-democratic political culture. [88] Liberal principles accord with the strong Anishinaabe sense of individual liberty and the endeavor to retain traditional values, which have always strengthened community cohesion. The CWEN connects traditional Anishinaabe principles of governance with defining individual powers – legislative, executive, and judicial – mutually balanced by the system of checks and balances that holds the government accountable. [89] To minimize official misconduct serving personal or clientelist interests at the expense of public well-being, the CWEN incorporates traditional forms of government as additional oversight mechanisms: the community councils, the council of elders, and the youth council. [90]

Public involvement in the open constitution-making process during constitutional conventions (2007–2009) and public discourse prior to the CWEN's adoption in the referendum (2009–2013) were factors that could have strengthened the sense of ownership and legitimacy of the government if the CWEN was implemented. [91] Implementation of the new constitution was stopped after the election of three new tribal council members in June 2014. [92] Democratic dialogue discontinued in November 2014 when new anti-reform tribal council members voted to censor the press to prevent publishing any information or updates on the CWEN in Anishinaabeg Today newspapers. [93]

Not only Native nations' efforts at wholesale government reforms tend to fail. Johan P. Olsen argues that in Western public sectors comprehensive government reforms often create stalemates, confrontations, and crises. [94] Answering the question of why the White Earth government reform failed involves taking into account a combination of external and internal causes. An important external factor is federal Indian policy that even in the self-determination period does not allow Native nations to exercise real self-governing powers. Path dependency in Indian policy causes that BIA-imposed procedural obstacles in the MCT Constitution of 1936 remain in the current Revised Constitution of 1964 and make it extremely difficult for the White Earth Anishinaabeg to create their own form of governing organization. The main internal factor is the process of internalization of the imposed one-branch model of government which certain White Earth representatives, motivated by power ambitions, integrated into their notion of an acceptable form of Native governance. The constitutional reform of 2013 would bring similarly radical change as instituting the MCT government in 1936. Even though the opposition has called for reform for decades, there was a fear of change among White Earth citizens. They perceived change as a danger to the long-standing stability of the system which they did not consider as their own and legitimate but they relied on social securities that this system provided. Decades-long existence of the White Earth Reservation as a subordinate sub-unit of the MCT caused mental dependence of the White Earth Anishinaabeg on their past.

The CWEN's landslide adoption by nearly eighty percent of White Earth voters was only a short-term success of long-term reform efforts. Although the constitutional reform might be assessed as a fiasco by anti-reform citizens, the CWEN was an important watershed in the development of White Earth governance because it outlined a path the White Earth Nation can follow if it wants to decolonize its governance and maintain its national existence. What sets the course of the White Earth rebuilding process are not only major, but also incremental and slow changes which undoubtedly include the establishment of the White Earth Tribal Court in 1997. If the CWEN is implemented in its original or revised form in the future, then the White Earth judiciary will become its buttress.

A possible consequence of the thwarted reform might be requests for continuing the reform process as discussions at the community council level indicate. Taking into account that a large portion of the White Earth population fears separating from the MCT, it would be worth considering the alternative recommended by Assistant Commissioner William Zimmerman in July 1935. Because Zimmerman anticipated the loss of reservation autonomy and land rights under the centralized MCT government, he suggested that individual reservations organize as separate governments possessing full governmental powers that the umbrella MCT organization would not have. [95] Developing this idea further, the MCT would be decentralized and turn into a real federation working on the principle of subsidiarity. This means that reservations would no longer be governed from the single center and whatever could be decided at the lowest level would take place there. The MCT would make decisions only if an intended goal would be impossible to achieve by reservation governments.


Native nations face many problems when they try to achieve sustainable self-determination through reclaiming self-governing powers. The White Earth Nation cannot act as an independent political entity because of its position within the wider MCT government structure. In the White Earth history interconnected with the history of the scattered Minnesota Anishinaabe reservations, there is distal causation between the creation of the General Council of the Chippewa and the MCT's formation two decades later. In my analytic approach to events around the organizing of Anishinaabe reservations under the IRA, I took into consideration not only the burden of the earlier institutional choice, but also the power interests of the local BIA agency behind what appeared to be a free Anishinaabe decision to form the centralized MCT government. Causal meaning of temporally distant events supports arguments about path dependence understood broadly as the dependence on the past which turns out to be one of the causes of the recent White Earth government reform failure. From its creation in 1936, the MCT government, perceived by the White Earth Anishinaabeg as illegitimate and ineffective, resisted attempts at change. Even though self-reinforcing processes kept its formal structure essentially unchanged, institutional effects changed in a hidden way and led to political pathologies functioning as subversive informal institutions. Illegal practices of White Earth and MCT representatives threatening White Earth Anishinaabe vital interests became a catalyst for mobilizing citizen opposition that requested restoration of democratic accountability. The demand for regaining democracy, declared by members of the opposition, was an ideal necessary to achieve the transformation of  White Earth society and to assert Anishinaabe nationhood by maintaining Anishinaabe worldviews and philosophy as a guarantee of uninterrupted continuity between the past, present, and future. For this reason, government reforms of 1998 and 2007 2013 were led by efforts to democratize White Earth governance by strictly separating government powers and instituting specific types of checks and balances drawing on traditional Anishinaabe governing forms. Failure of the recent White Earth constitutional reform can be attributed to combined effects of path dependence and internalization of the imposed institutional order that works as a divisive factor in White Earth society. By applying the path dependence logic, it can be argued that persistence of the ineffective MCT structure is the result of colonial legacy of federal Indian policy that allows Native people few activities not under its control.

What can we learn from constitutional reform efforts of the White Earth Nation and what are the wider implications of this case? The organization of political life is equally important in Native nations as in the mainstream society. Through analytic tools of new institutionalism, it is possible to study institutional dynamics in Native nations: how government institutions come into being and how they are maintained and transformed. The White Earth Nation case shows that creating new government through wholesale constitutional reform is extremely difficult because reform efforts tend to spur resistance and defense of the status quo. Dependence on the past and fear of change are not only problems facing Native nations that went through traumatizing colonial experience. Disproportionately shorter, but similarly morally devastating is the legacy of totalitarian regimes in post-communist states. Decolonization of Native nations is a long-term process that involves not only repeated attempts at comprehensive reforms but also slow, gradual changes.

* Anna Krausová holds a Ph.D. degree in International Area Studies from Charles University, Czech Republic. Her current research focuses on the problem of path dependence in Native nations’ rebuilding efforts. Her articles have been published in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal; Politics, Groups, and Identities; and Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory, and Culture. She may be contacted at:

[1] Since the mid-1980s, a research initiative called the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development was launched under the direction of sociologist Steven Cornell and economist Joseph Kalt. Stephen Cornell, " Becoming Public Sociology: Indigenous Nations, Dialogue, and Change" in Vincent Jeffries (ed.), Handbook of Public Sociology (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), pp. 263–79.

[2] Vine Deloria and Clifford M. Lytle, The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1984), pp. 8–9.

[3] Miriam Jorgensen (ed.), Rebuilding Native Nations: Strategies for Governance and Development (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2007), p. viii.

[4] "Nations within nations" is a crucial feature of Indigenous nationhood because it differentiates the claims of Native peoples from those of racial and ethnic minorities. Stephen Cornell, "Processes of Native Nationhood: The Indigenous Politics of Self-Government," The International Indigenous Policy Journal 6:4 (2015), pp. 1–27.

[5] In this article, I use the term Anishinaabe (noun singular and adjective), Anishinaabeg (noun plural) which can be translated into English as "the original people" or "the Indian people." For the meaning of the word Anishinaabe, see Dennis Jones, "The Etymology of Anishinaabe," Oshkaabewis Native Journal 2:1 (1995), pp. 43–48. In the 1990s, White Earth citizens returned to their traditional name Anishinaabeg that replaced the anglicized Chippewa.

[6] 48 Stat. 984–988 (1934).

[7] Kennan Ferguson, "Why Does Political Science Hate American Indians?" Perspectives on Politics 14:4 (2016), pp. 1029–38.

[8] See the reactions to Ferguson's essay by six political scientists: Daniel Carpenter, Paul Frymer, Lauren M. MacLean, Joely Proudfit, David E. Wilkins, and Franke Wilmer, available online at:

[9] Cornell, "Processes of Native Nationhood," p. 5.

[10] Ibid., 6.

[11] Melissa L. Meyer, The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889 1920 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), p. 134.

[12] Jill Doerfler, Those Who Belong: Identity, Family, Blood, and Citizenship Among the White Earth Anishinaabeg (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2015); Jill Doerfler, "Making Ourselves Whole with Words: A Short History of White Earth Anishinaabeg Tribal Citizenship Criteria," in Kathleen Ratteree and Norbert Hill (eds),  The Great Vanishing Act: Blood Quantum and the Future of Native Nations (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2017), pp. 189–209.

[13] Rebecca Kugel, To Be the Main Leaders of Our People: A History of Minnesota Ojibwe Politics, 1825 1898 (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1998); Michael D. McNally, Ojibwe Singers: Hymns, Grief, and a Native Culture in Motion (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009).

[14] Lawrence W. Gross, Anishinaabe Ways of Knowing and Being (Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2014).

[15] A. Irving Hallowell, "Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View," in Graham Harvey (ed.), Readings in Indigenous Religions (London, UK: Continuum, 2002), p. 44.

[16] Gerald Vizenor and Jill Doerfler, The White Earth Nation: Ratification of a Native Democratic Constitution (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012).

[17] Steven Haberfeld , "The Process of Constitutional Reform," in Eric D. Lemont (ed.), American Indian Constitutional Reform and the Rebuilding of Native Nations (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2006), p. 253.

[18] Rudra Sil and Peter J. Katzenstein, Beyond Paradigms: Analytic Eclecticism in the Study of World Politics (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[19] Robert Alexander Innes, "Introduction: Native Studies and Native Cultural Preservation, Revitalization, and Persistence," American Indian Culture and Research Journal 34:2 (2010), p. 4.

[20] Gerald Vizenor and A. Robert Lee, Postindian Conversations (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), p. 93.

[21] Cornell, "Processes of Native Nationhood," p. 6.  

[22] See, for example, Gerald R. Vizenor, Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1990). 

[23] Michel Foucault and Sylvere Lotringer, Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961–1984 (New York, NY: Semiotext(e), 1996), p. 68.

[24] Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" in Donald F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 139–64.

[25] BIA officials deemed the governing body's opposition undesirable. Therefore, a possible disagreement of the reservation council was not to be put on record. See, for example, Indian Affairs Manual, Community Services, Placement. 1951. Box 52, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[26] Orfeo Fioretos, Tulia G. Falleti, and Adam Sheingate, "Historical Institutionalism in Political Science" in Orfeo Fioretos, Tulia G. Falleti, and Adam Sheingate (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Historical Institutionalism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 11.

[27] Paul Pierson, Politics in Time: History, Institutions, and Social Analysis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 20 21.

[28] Paul Pierson, "Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics," The American Political Science Review 94:2 (2000), p. 263.

[29] Ruth Berins Collier and David Collier made an early contribution to understanding  critical junctures which they defined as "major watersheds in political life" that "establish certain directions of change and foreclose others in a way that shapes politics for years to come." Ruth Berins Collier and David Collier, Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 27.

[30] James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, "A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change" in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen (eds), Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 1–37.

[31] Vivien Lowndes, and Mark Roberts, Why Institutions Matter: The New Institutionalism in Political Science (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 6.

[32] Ibid., 41.

[33] Felix Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law lists sixty-seven Indian nations that wrote constitutions prior to 1934. Felix S. Cohen, Cohen 's Handbook of Federal Indian Law (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1942), p. 129.

[34] Elmer R. Rusco, A Fateful Time: The Background and Legislative History of the Indian Reorganization Act (Reno and Las Vegas, NV: University of Nevada Press, 2000), pp. 15–34.

[35] Meyer, The White Earth Tragedy, p. 229.

[36] 25 Stat. 642–646 (1889).

[37] The term intercurrence means a contentious juxtaposition of old and new norms, old and new ideas, and old and new institutions that results from the historical development of institutions and governing arrangements. Stephen Skowronek and Karen Orren, "Pathways to the Present: Political Development in America," in Richard Valelly, Suzanne Mettler, and Robert C. Lieberman (eds), The Oxford Handbook of American Political Development (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 30.

[38] Meyer, The White Earth Tragedy, p. 200.

[39] Resolutions of the Mixed-Blood Council, July 10 and 11, 1923. Box 5, Series 36: Records Relating to General Councils of the Chippewa Indians of Minnesota, NARA, RG 75.

[40] P. R. Wadsworth to Charles Burke, July 2, 1923. Box 51, Series 4: Central Subject Correspondence Files, NARA, RG 75.

[41] Resolutions of the Mixed-Blood Council, July 10 and 11, 1923. Box 5, Series 36: Records Relating to General Councils of the Chippewa Indians of Minnesota, NARA, RG 75.

[42] General Council Meeting, Cass Lake, July 19, 1922. Box 5, Series 36: Records Relating to General Councils of the Chippewa Indians of Minnesota, NARA, RG 75.

[43] The "circle of life" is one translation of bimaadiziwin. McNally, Ojibwe Singers, p. 24.

[44] Protracted deliberations were commonplace. At times, meetings lasted even a few days. Proceedings of the General Council of all Chippewa Indians of Minnesota, July 9, 1918. Box 5, Series 36: Records Relating to General Councils of the Chippewa Indians of Minnesota, NARA, RG 75.

[45] John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to Frank Clark, June 22, 1935. Box 55, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[46] Jacob Munnell to M. L. Burns, Superintendent, Consolidated Chippewa Agency, May 14, 1935; M. L. Burns to John Collier, August 2, 1935. Box 55, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[47] Meeting of Chippewa Delegates to Organize into a General Council, June 27, 1935. Box 51, Series 4: Central Subject Correspondence Files, NARA, RG 75.

[48] Ibid.

[49] William Zimmerman to Elmer A. Benson, March 7, 1936. Box 55, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[50] Meeting, June 27, 1935.

[51] William Zimmerman to J. S Monks, July 18, 1935. Box 55, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75. Memorandum to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, August 27, 1935. Box 59, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[52] William Zimmerman to M. L Burns, March 6, 1936. Box 55, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[53] Mahoney and Thelen define displacement as "the removal of existing rules and the introduction of new ones" ("A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change," p.15).

[54] Constitution and Bylaws of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Minnesota. July 24, 1936, available online at: .

[55] Charter of Organization of the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians, February 22, 1939. Microfiche. Honolulu: Law Library Microform Consortium.

[56] Resolution No. XXXVIII, June 5, 6, and 7, 1939. Box 51, Series 4: Central Subject Correspondence Files, NARA, RG 75.

[57] Superintendent M. L. Burns mentioned a letter called "Warning to the Chippewa Indians of Minnesota" circulated in White Earth communities for the purpose of persuading the Anishinaabeg to vote against the Constitution. The letter itself is missing in the documents. M. L. Burns to Fred H. Daiker, June 27, 1936. Box 59, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[58] Niles Beaupre to Frank Broker, February 25, 1939. Box 72, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[59] The TEC drafted amendments to the MCT Constitution and By-Laws in 1944, 1946, 1949, and 1952. Box 51, Series 4: Central Subject Correspondence Files, NARA, RG 75. Boxes 55 and 59 Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[60] Public Law No. 83 280, 67 Stat. 588 (1953).

[61] James A. Wakanabo to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, May 1, 1951. Box 62, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[62] US Congress, House Report No. 2680 : Report with Respect to the House Resolution Authorizing the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs to Conduct an Investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 83rd Congress, 2d session, (Washington, DC: 1954), pp. 3–4.

[63] J. W. Kauffman to E. Morgan Pryse, July 18, 1955. Box 56, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[64] Summary of Investigation of Alleged Wasting of Funds of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe of Indians. July 3, 1956. Box 56, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[65] Drift is defined as the failure of "decision makers to update formal rules when shifting circumstances change the social effects of those rules." Conversion means "the transformation of an already-existing institution or policy through its authoritative redirection, reinterpretation, or reappropriation." Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson, and Kathleen Thelen, "Drift and Conversion: Hidden Faces of Institutional Change," in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen (eds), Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 184 85.

[66] W. W. Palmer to R. D. Holtz, March 4, 1957. Box 60, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[67] Minnesota Five Year Plan. April 4, 1960. Box 56, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[68] Joe E. Vizenor and William Morrell, Report of the Delegation to Washington DC, June 18, 1956. Box 56, Series 5: Decimal Correspondence File, NARA, RG 75.

[69] Consolidated Chippewa Newsletter, August 26, 1953. Box 439, Series 12: Agency Publications, NARA, RG 75.

[70] Revised Constitution and Bylaws of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Minnesota. (1964; amended 1972 and 2006).

[71] Ni-Mah-Mi-Kwa-Zoo-Min. Cass Lake, Minnesota. September 1979.

[72] State v. Clark, 282 N.W.2d 902 (1979).

[73] Anita Fineday, "A Roundtable: Sorting Out the Relationship of the Tribal Courts and the State Court System," in Esther Wattenberg (ed.), Sovereignty: The Heart of the Matter (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota, 2000), p. 24.

[74] White Earth Band of Chippewa, Judicial Code. Chapter VII § 6 (b), available online at:

[75] White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Judicial Code. Title 4a Customary Adoption Code, available online at:

[76] Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, Public Law 93-638, 88 Stat. 2203 (1975).

[77] Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, almost every election on the White Earth Reservation was rigged by incumbents to ensure reelection and remaining in power. Cole Short, "White Earth Officials Vow Clean Tribal Election," The Ojibwe News (April 21, 2000).  

[78] In 1980, the TEC claimed exclusive power to interpret the MCT Constitution. Tribal Constitution, Interpretation No. 1-80, October 22, 23, 1980. In the Interpretation No. 2-80, the TEC declared the power to create by ordinance a judicial system (as part of the single branch of the MCT government) even though this authority was beyond the powers set forth in the MCT Constitution. Tribal Constitution, Interpretation No. 2-80, October 22, 23, 1980.

[79] See, for example, Jim Ortiz, "White Earth Tribal Members Call for Reform," The Ojibwe News (July 31, 1991).

[80] Ibid.

[81] United States v. Wadena, Crim. No. 3-95-102 (D. Minn. Jan. 24, 1996).

[82] The White Earth Reservation Constitution Draft (February 21, 1998), Anishinaabeg Today (July 1999), pp. 9–12.

[83] Vizenor and Doerfler, The White Earth Nation, pp. 46–50.

[84] Ibid., 39.

[85] "White Earth Voters Approve New Constitution," Anishinaabeg Today (December 4, 2013), p. 1.

[86] The Constitution of the White Earth Nation, (ratified 2009; adopted 2013), available online at: constitution_2.pdf.

[87] Ibid., Chapter 2, Article 1.

[88] Ibid., Chapter 3.

[89] Ibid., Chapter 10.

[90] Ibid., Chapters 7–9.

[91] In 2013 more than fifty informational sessions organized by the Constitutional Reform Project Manager Terry Janis and his team took place in reservation and off-reservation communities. Terry Janis, "White Earth Nation Constitution: Educational Tools Help Voters Make Their Own Choices," Anishinaabeg Today (October 11, 2013), p. 2.

[92] The June 2014 White Earth General Election was marked by low voter turnout. The three challengers defeated the incumbents by a slight majority. "Voters Give Nod to Clark, Goodwin & Mason," Anishinaabeg Today (July 2, 2014).

[93] "News from Chairwoman Erma J. Vizenor," Anishinaabeg Today (December 3, 2014).

[94] Johan P. Olsen, "An Institutional Perspective," in Steven Van de Walle and Sandra Groeneveld (eds), Theory and Practice of Public Sector Reform (New York, NY: Routledge, 2010), p. 19.

[95] Zimmerman to Monks, July 18, 1935.


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