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Constitutional reform case: Traveling the rocky road
February 26, 2015 News Articles

HERE AT NAVAJO GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT OFFICE IN WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ., WHERE NAVAJO GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION IS CONTINUING THEIR “INDIGENOUS NATION BUILDING: LEADERSHIP, GOVERNANCE, CONSTITUTION, AND DEVELOPMENT SUCCESS” SEMINAR BY DR. MANLEY BEGAYE JR.

SESSION SIX, “CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM CASE: TRAVELING THE ROCKY ROAD”

DR. MANLEY BEGAYE JR.
Here is an example, a rurally situated nation has experienced longstanding unemployment and poverty, political dysfunction, internal factional conflict, economic development doldrums, and a decline in traditional knowledge and language fluency. Depends heavily on feds for funding; provides nearly all of the reservation’s available jobs. operates under Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) goverenment with a boilerplate constitution. Despite minor revision, priginal IRA structures endure as tribe’s primary governing institutions. features a dominant legislature; no true separation of powers; a weak judiciary; short, non-staggered terms; no referendum, recall or initiative provisions; vague, problematic membership criteria. sometimes hostile clashes between the legislative and executive branches. judges often removed for issuing unfavorable rulings. high turnover among electin officials. judicial instability translate into weak jurisdiction. political interference in day to day business operations has led to failed nation enterprises. bitter factional dispute over membership criteria. community apathy toward/distruct of nation government. it is april, the latest dispute has promted the firing of nation judges, dozens of arrests of nation citizens, and the temporary takeover of nation offices by a grassroots organization calling for new leadership and a new system of government. Meanwhile the always divisive nation elections are coming up in November which means things could get worse before they get better. across the rez, nation citizens fault the nation government as a whole for the turmoil and are looking for their elected officials to respond. You are a member of the nation council. a fellow council member has just introduced a motion to initiate constitutional reform to address the situation. Do you support his motion?

Navajo Government Development Commission votes Yes.

What’s next? the nation council established a constitution review committee composed of council members, community leaders, elders, common citizens. the commitee held open community meetings for three months to hear the opinions of nation members. the committee then began formulating a draft constitution.

the review committee agreed on comprehensive checks & balances, clear separation of powers, creation of strong, independent judiciary with authority to review actions of other branches, establishment of appeals court system, judges to be elected, not appointed, staggering and lengthening of terms of office, creation of an ethics board, adding of referendum, initiative provisions.

but there were some roadblocks. there is bitter dispute over membership/citizenship criteria; language requirement; community consultation.

who is eligible to be a nation citizen and who is eligible to run for tribal office? what is requirement.

this example is actually based on what happened to San Carlos Apache Tribe.

NAVAJO GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION say that citizenship should be based on:
blood quantum, speaks Navajo language, born on Navajo Reservation, have umbillical cord on reservation, clan,

DR. MANLEY BEGAYE JR
okay it is now one month before election and a motion has been introduced requiring the review committee to reconcile their differences and produce a draft constitution. do you support this?

NGD COMMISSIONER: NO, draft constitution needs to be taken to people, public hearings.

DR. MANELY BEGAYE JR.
the reform process failed due to several factors.

CONSTITUTIONAL TRENDS IN INDIAN COUNTRY OF SUCCESSFUL REFORM COMMONLY GEARED TOWARD: Reflecting local political cultures and traditions; asserting inherent powers; separation of powers; increasing government stability and accountability of its representation (ethics codes, judicial review); empowering nation judiciaries, providing foundation for increased exercise of sovereignty (jurisdiction). nation without strong court system, you have strong nations. increasing popular participation and voice in government (decentralization); staggered terms, lengthened terms, term limits; election reforms such as the addition of primaries.

But whatever you do, don’t let lawyers get involved until the end.

and in the process of reform there are two typical paths – top down and bottom up. which one will stand a better chance of long term success and which one will have more validity/legitimacy in the long run in the eyes of the community.

NGD COMMISSIONER
leadership use to be about integrity and honor.

DR. MANLEY BEGAYE JR.
you are talking about how do we select our leaders? in the past, who selected the nataani? what did they need to know? at least one ceremony. and their family asked them to become nataani and the selection was the most honored. perhaps commission needs to include that in constitution.

Delegating authority is an important part of constitution.

but it’s very important for people to be inovolved and educated.

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