Alma Ransom, Former Constitution Committee Member and Tribal Chief
July 6, 2007
1. What is your opinion of the Three Chief System?
Well the three chief system has worked for many, many years, but in this day and age it could be larger. There’s enough things going on to have a larger council, to have them specialize in various areas, various areas like portfolio holders….[Phone call.] …Another reason why is it would eliminate two people running the place at will. That was the thing. Other than that, I mean it’s worked for a long time and it still can work well. As a matter of fact, when the ethics…when we were working as a committee, it’s the ethics of how to behave was what we were concerned about, because rumor mill was rampant about what was wrong. Two, a couple of chiefs, no matter which pair it is, rumor mill was rampant and we were working very hard to get some kind of rules to conform them. To follow rules and not run amuck and embarrass us, you know. Those kinds of things. It was nothing more than getting some kind of rules to stop them because there was nothing to stop them up to that time. I understand now that there was a lot of money that the BIA spent to get this constitution here, you know these kinds of rules. They had an ultimate goal and that was to get us like all the reservations across the country. To have more control themselves.
2. What is your opinion of the 1995 Tribal Constitution?
Well the idea…My part as a committee person in it, it had failed, people had voted it down, they didn’t want it. I don’t know what happened before that, whether there were public hearings or not, or what kind of participation the community had. I mean, we didn’t even vote on it, much less it could have come into being at that time without our involvement, but it was after it failed that people were quitting the committee, you know? I came on, and then later Harry [Benedict] came on. I’m certain the reason why I was on is because I can speak Indian so well that I could translate to the people and explain what’s happening. And it was nothing more than what the ethics…government and ethics thing that we just passed. It’s nothing because we never got into anything about the courts or anything else. We just worked on those…pretty much from the procedures act, the wording…the wording, we didn’t have to invent the wheel, you know? And basically it was the ethics to govern the chiefs. Nobody ever said that the courts would overrule the chiefs. That was the last thing I…it was an absolute…contrary to what impressions we had. It was absolutely…I mean, I worked over 18 months without pay to…because it…the Creator intervened and we didn’t get the absolute 51%. As a matter of fact we made tapes to entice people to come and vote. You know, we made tapes long before the thing was even finished. We rattled them off and invited people to come and participate. And now we’re taping again, and I have…I don’t want to hear this on the radio. I just saw…we were away, as you know, we were away and up to Kateri Conference. Then I see the paper with the same statement that I’m endorsing the constitution. Not as it is, certainly not as it is and if there’s been any changes I haven’t seen it. It’s reality right now, and why include me in that?
3. Briefly describe your involvement in tribal politics as it relates to the Tribal Constitution.
As a committee person…I mean, I can make a statement now, as a matter of fact…I had to understand the thing well enough for me to translate. You can’t translate without understanding, you know? That was kind of my job, if I can translate and Indian people, Indian-speaking people can understand, well that was well enough. Never did we go to do with the courts or anything else, and I never attended any public hearings regarding the courts, and they say it was already established long before that. The people never had part in that. Like the constitution, many people came out to vote, and we invited them and all that stuff, but never did I hear how this is going to work. We had the three hearings. The requirement is the final copy. The final copy is the one that the people are going to hear it in three fashions: In writing, in the forenoon, evening, and in the papers, radio, whatever format that was available, you know. The final, the final, and every public hearing we had there it changes, there was changes being made all the time for people to understand it better and people had better ideas. That’s why the amount of the votes that was necessary…the way I understood it was that, all of us understood it to be, for me to beat you I had to have one more to beat you. And it came out in writing as 51%. What is the difference? They kind of made fun of us for questioning that. It’s all the same. There was nothing specific about it until for me Randy Hart pointed it out that it doesn’t constitute 51% because of the numbers. I was part of the people that reviewed the ballots that were spoiled. They weren’t spoiled ballots there was just nothing on them. We had former chiefs come in, we had former chiefs come in to review those to make sure people aren’t lying, saying they’re for it or against it or whatever. We saw those ballots over and over again, meaning those people didn’t even understand. Rather than, there was no mark, nothing! Absolutely nothing on the papers. Those were the ballots, you know when it says spoiled ballots? I don’t know how you classify it. You know hen the argument came this many voted, this many yes, therefore the rest must be no, or this many spoiled ballots, therefore it must have been yes because they came and not no, not no, N-O, you know, ballots? So those arguments went on and on for a whole year! Every tribal meeting for a whole year, that issue was brought. It was brought up, it was always brought up to make sure that it never died, until we voted again. They said let’s get it over with once and for all, and we voted again in ’96. That’s all on video. You should see Larry Thompson, they have it all on video, the meetings. Those things are all on video so that people can’t say, well I didn’t hear that or I didn’t say that, it was right on the speakers. You know, they had videos right in there because they said this is a big decision. So I mean I attended all these but my involvement was as a committee person, I didn’t…I came out of this kitchen to go there.
4. Looking back on your involvement, what would you have done differently if you had it all to do over again?
As a committee person, I should have…we should have questioned more the obvious goals of the BIA, the obvious goals of the BIA. Because they invested money here. I don’t know where the money went but at one time when we were there arguing about defending the referendum which is the highest form of Indian voice here, how it happened….I can’t remember right now, I’m sure the other chiefs can remember…we were told that they invested too much money here to have them chose a system that’s not like the one they brought, that there was…I mean, we should have questioned more, but we trusted the chiefs. We trusted them to be honorable and bring in…for the chiefs to say we want them, but they never attended. The public meetings, we were on our own. They never attended. Lincoln White was part of the committee and he was livid. He said, this is the last one we’re going to participate of those, you know, the information sessions? He says, not one public official his here. We’re on our own, getting all the heat with the questions, but that’s what we were there for. But he said, they should have been answering questions because this isn’t our kind of knowledge, really, at the time. I mean, we should have questioned it more. I thought, and I’ll never change this thought, is that what we were doing was nothing more than the rules how the chiefs should behave. Rumor mill had it that they were getting kickbacks, payoffs, they were getting all this…and we couldn’t get rid of them, you know? In office? And this had an element how they could be removed if they’re bad people. And it had that element and we worked hard. It was all free, we volunteered. We were asked, but we didn’t get paid. That’s volunteer. So I am certain that anybody that wants to be on the committee to learn and know this a lot more…but Lincoln was on it. Lincoln was on it, the man had been across the country over and over and knew other Indians, and he was working hard because he was embarrassed by some of the things that were happening. Ben, Dr. Kelly’s dad, was on there. He was hurt by how badly they lost that past winter. Your mom was on there. She had been on there. And Lois. A whole bunch of them had been on there over time. And Phil [Tarbell] was on it, before he became chief. I don’t know the full history of that part, but I trusted all these people to have…we thought it was a darn good thing to be able to…but it was nothing more than the ethics…the ethics, but on the last day, then they said, it’s going to be in three sections here and we don’t know anything about the other…he says, well, there’s going to be a head chief, you know, and he’s going to have an assistant. I don’t know how it worked before that, but I had never been in there. And I was never going to be in there, either, until this thing went awry.
5. What changes would you like to see in your tribal government?
Not with the constitution here, the way it empowers the BIA. In ’82 we had nothing to do with them. Before ’82 we had nothing to do with the federal government and BIA had barely visiting rights to come here. And now they brought this in to put us in “lands into trust” status which is sinful. And they’re blaming us for it! You know, and that is the part…we had governance and ethics, that’s enough. We have family court. That is something the people want. Not the kind of court that they introduced here. Because the court that…we had information sessions for family court and the resolution came at the last minute to change the wording. So that has to change. We need truth. Truth! And take the heat for God’s sake. I’ve taken heat lots of times but I didn’t lie.