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How Does Our Tribal Government Work?

A Brief Explanation

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribal government was formed under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in 1934. Leaders from the Tribe worked with the federal government to write our Constitution. The old way – historic way – we governed was through consensus, which means unanimous (undivided or undisputed) agreement by the leadership on an issue.

Creating a constitution set out a new way of governing. The Tribal Leaders who created and wrote our Constitution in 1935 wanted to make certain that our traditional way of agreement, by consensus, continued under the new governing process. As Lower Brule was a small tribe with a small governing council of 6 individuals, the leaders followed the traditional wisdom of full agreement by specifying in this new Constitution that 5 of the 6 council members had to be present to conduct formal business – this is called a “quorum” – and they required that any action or Tribal Resolution had to have no less than 4 votes in agreement (either for or against) in order to pass. Finally, they declared that the Chairman could only vote if the votes of the Council members were tied. These Tribal Leaders therefore designed the Constitution to make certain that future leaders would govern the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe by unanimous consent, as our ancestors had done for many generations.

The Constitution and Bylaws for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe took effect on November 27, 1935.

Over the years the Constitution has been improved by making amendments and establishing ordinances and codes. The Tribal Council does not make changes to the Constitution; it requires a majority vote by tribal members through a referendum or a special secretarial election — the last occurred in 1986.

The Lower Brule Tribal Constitution and Bylaws also addresses other important governmental functions such as promoting general welfare, developing better school facilities, conserving and developing lands and resources, managing the economic affairs and enterprises of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, establishing tribal corporations as necessary to develop and operate Tribal business entities, authorizing the Tribal Council to negotiate with the federal government, and establishing the election process and qualifications for office.

What does the Tribal Council do?

The Tribal Council is in charge of making the decisions for tribal government that will help protect and safeguard the wellbeing of the Tribe and its members now and into the future. The Council’s primary responsibilities include managing the departments and offices in the tribal government – the programs that make the reservation and communities run, such as rural water, environmental protection, wildlife, health service, ambulance, fire department, the school system, and the elder nutrition program. The Tribal Council also works with federal and state agencies and other organizations as needed to benefit the Tribe. Council members also consider the needs and requests of individual tribal members.

The Tribal Council meets once a month. Council meetings are open meetings and community members or others are welcome to attend. Council decisions are made through the voting process established in the Constitution, and many of these decisions become Tribal Resolutions. A summary of each council meeting – the Minutes – is printed and available to the public.

What happens to the Federal money that Tribes get?

The US government provides money to Tribes for certain services because of promises they made when they signed the Treaties. They also determine the amount of federal money that each Tribe gets and base this amount on census figures (a federal census is taken every 10 years).

The Tribe cannot spend this federal money as it wishes. Each Tribal Program must submit a budget and it receives only this portion of the federal money. The funds come to the Tribe and are dispersed to the programs in installments throughout the year – not in one large amount. At the end of the financial year, each program has to show how they spent the money they requested in their budget.

Other types of Federal money

1. Special legislation: The Tribe may receive federal money if the US Congress provides it in specific legislation. Lower Brule received money this way through two Acts passed by Congress: the Infrastructure Development Act (which built the Tribal Administration Building, Community Center and other parts of the Lower Brule infrastructure) and Title VI, the Wildlife Habitat Restoration Act (which returned the lands along the shoreline to the Tribe and enables the Wildlife Department to improve our natural habitats by replanting trees and berry bushes). The federal government does not simply give the Tribe this money. They create a “trust” in the name of the Tribe. A Trust is like a permanent savings account, but the Tribe can only draw out the interest money that these accounts produce every year. The Tribe can only spend this interest money to directly support the programs specified in the federal Act. They can never touch the money (or principal) in the fund itself.

2. Grants and Contracts: The Tribe and its programs, with Council approval, can apply to a federal agency or other organization for grant money and it can compete for contracts. Grants and contracts most often provide funding for projects that are not covered under a tribal program’s budget. The program to return endangered ferrets to the Reservation and the protection of the Lower Brule shoreline with riprap are results of this type of funding. As with other financial activities, the Tribe must submit a detailed budget to the funding organization when applying for a grant or contract, and submit spending records at the close of the project.

3. Settlement money: This is most often money that a federal court has ordered the US government to pay the Tribe to compensate for mistakes or wrongdoings that affect individual tribal members or the Tribe. Such funds may also compensate the Tribal government for money the Tribe spent on behalf of the federal government. The federal government always clearly states the purpose of the settlement money and ensures that it is paid out and spent as they have intended.

What does the Tribe do for the people?

The Tribal Government continually tries to improve many things that affect the community and each family – for example, the roads, schools, recreational areas, mental health and addiction programs, housing, electricity, and water to name a few. Some examples of programs that our Government provides for community members are: the General Living Assistance (through the GA Program), assistance to the elderly and handicapped (through the WAPA allocation program), the Commodity Program (assisting those who are qualified), and the summer work program (which operates when funds are available).

As the amount of money the Tribe receives from the federal government for these programs is limited, it often takes years to provide the services necessary. It is also very difficult to get increases in budgeted amounts, even though the population of the Tribe and the needs of the community increase every year. For example, every month, the money to provide the elderly and handicapped with electricity through WAPA falls short of what is needed, because the elderly membership has increased over time, and the Tribe therefore has to supplement this money by drawing from the General Fund. So improving things we want to change right now often takes a long time. It requires a long and involved process of coordination and communication between the Tribe and federal and state agencies and much waiting for these agencies to make decisions that we regard as urgent.

This is a very short explanation of how tribal government works. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to ask one of your Council members.

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