Carol Herne, Former Tribal Clerk
July 10, 2007
1. What is your opinion of the Three Chief System?
The three chief system was working until we got a lot more funding, a lot more things to do. For years people wanted us to change it…so we tried to do a constitution. I was on that committee for a while. Leonard Garrow was on there, and one of the things he said was to keep it simple, but nobody took his advice. They made it difficult to do and people don’t seem to read anything that’s too long. So the constitution people worked on it for years, and it always got stuck over the membership, because we always went with the father’s side. And then in 1986, ‘85, we had a vote. Vote was 93 to 96...no, 91 to 93, and it passed by 3 votes. So to me the membership code still wasn’t clear and it still could be…the chiefs could even say who could be put on our rolls. They had final say so we didn’t have any balance of power. So when the constitution came, it was time for a vote. I went and voted against it, because I thought the community wasn’t ready for it. Knowing how the membership went through, and people were still bickering over it, so then the same thing happened with the constitution. Now I could kick myself! I should have voted yes. Maybe it would have stayed. (Laughs.) But I was working with the constitutional government, I found that it had a good thing to have, with balance there, where it was not just…two chiefs doing anything they want…the two chiefs always got away with it. So then that’s a part I didn’t like. To me, it was three voices, they should have been in a back room arguing it out and then come out with three to make it one. Some of them, they would even have a fistfight in the back room! So now, I would like to see the constitution back in place, but I’d like to see if the community is ready for it, and I still don’t think they are. They have to study it a little bit more, but then we always have a group that…they don’t believe in our system, but they’re always in there interfering. Like what happened with the first meeting I went to, what was it about three weeks ago? Saturday? Now that I’m not clerk…I want to ask her, why is she interfering in our business when she doesn’t believe in it? They just come in and stir up the…I’m not going to use that word I like to use! (Laughs.) Stir up the…you know! So anyway… I just don’t know how you could get it to people. Some people don’t even…you send them the information, they don’t even read it. And then they cry because they didn’t know about it.
2. What is your opinion of the 1995 Tribal Constitution?
I’d like to see that 51% taken out of there.
Do you remember why that was put in?
No because…people wanted that out. It was at that committee meeting, they had their hearings. They didn’t listen to some of us.
Were you on the committee back then?
No, I quit after a while, because it came to be quite a hassle…new people come in, the new ideas, and didn’t want to listen to older ones, so I just dropped out. I had too much to do anyway. But that was back in the early ‘80’s I guess.
3. Briefly describe your involvement in tribal politics as it relates to the Tribal Constitution.
The one thing I found when Rudy Hart came in with this percentage, his question, someone, even myself, should have remembered that resolution. It said the majority will vote this in. To this day we’re still arguing over it. To me, today, I wish I had told Rudy that the majority had the right to vote…that’s passing the constitution.
So you were the clerk at the time?
And you were the clerk throughout a lot of the changeover. How did that go?
It was terrible. Nobody…the court system too came in and everybody started suing each other. And then… Alma Ransom…she said she was going to run for chief, and so I said, “Alma, you can’t run for chief because you’re on a board, the election board.” And she went and ran anyway, and so then I took her to court. And then the court ruled that she wasn’t supposed to run for chief. We make our rules, and we don’t follow them. It’s like that to this day.
4. Looking back on your involvement, what would you have done differently if you had it all to do over again?
I probably should have studied it more, kept with the committee meetings, and…I don’t know…it’s kind of hard to…we bump heads all the time. Like today I say now I wish I had remembered that resolution. Somebody else should have remembered it too. Because they wrote it, I only signed the thing.
In one of the documents I dealt with there was a meeting that was held right after…I think you were the one that took the minutes for that meeting.
Yeah, I did, I did.
And that was a big discussion, was the chiefs are basically saying, “Well, it’s good enough for us, and we’ll sign it,” and that was pretty much the law back then. If the chiefs liked it, it didn’t matter how many voted, really. They could have signed in a menu from Pizza Hut if they wanted to.
5. What changes would you like to see in your tribal government?
I think the tribal government could work well if we had three branches. The judiciary…what’s the other two?
The executive and legislative?
You’d like to see something like that designed?
They could probably work that way too. And then the way it was set up, I just didn’t like the title CEO either. To me it wasn’t Indian, you know. That should have been something else. That’s where they could have said “head chief.”
Do you (think) those terminologies, like calling things “legislator”…it sounds like it mirrors the outside. You think that had a lot to do with people not liking it?
Or was it more of the fact that the old puppet show was over now?
I think a lot of it was people don’t understand or don’t care. Because there was always the three branches of the outside government, and yet people say “well, they copied our system.” Then how come we don’t like their system? (Laughs.)
That’s true. But things like the code of conduct, you know, ethical guidelines…do you like that?
We put that in, we put a lot of work into that. A lot of discussion, and…I really don’t want to see that being used unless we had to. But it’s something the people have now if they had a major complaint about one of the chiefs, then they could have somebody investigate it, see if there’s merit to it. But I hope we never have to use it. We could have years ago when some of the chiefs weren’t very honest.
Follow up questions:
When you were the clerk, and they had the transition, from the old system to the constitution, do you remember if it was smooth transition or were people not understanding what was going on? What’s your memory of that?
People were not understanding…tribal employees were not understanding it…even the council members did not understand it. So then they started bumping heads. In my position, I thought I was supposed to record everything, but the legislators wanted their own person I guess. I can’t remember who it was. It was like…it was really not a good transition. People would run to the judge, when they appointed a judge. They’d go running to her, and we weren’t supposed to be that close with her. And I think that had a lot to do… Anytime a question came up, instead of trying to resolve it, they’d go running to the judge.
Later on when there were challenges and petitions and a referendum, and the three chief system came back in, there was a time where the two were in the same building. Do you remember anything about that? What was your memory of that? The dual government thing?
That part, I didn’t know which one I was going to go with. I thought, this is what the people want, the three chief system back in. So then I didn’t record for all the constitutional government. That was another thing, to this day, I should have did both. But you never know what’s right. You think about it later on, I should have done it this way. And the employees were walking on thin ice. Some of the chiefs would go in and tell them they got to do it this way, now the opposite goes and tells them the other way. It was the same way with me. And then when the three chiefs were in there, they started doing their dealings. They went to Washington DC for a meeting. Paul Thompson says to me, “You stick with us, you’re going to go a long ways.” I don’t really know what he meant by that, but the more I learned on what they were doing, I didn’t like what they were doing, so eventually they locked me out of my office. Twice they did it! And even one of the policemen came over and told me that the night before that Junior Bigtree came in and changed the locks and boarded it up again. They used him like their goon squad. Him and Harry Benedict, the way they acted. That’s what I called them, goon squad. In fact, they didn’t even understand Speed was doing deliveries for subpoenas, summons…He went to Junior Bigtree to deliver one to him and he pulled out a gun on him. He didn’t know that Speed was only a messenger. You know? That’s what I find a lot of people are like that. They want to kill the messenger. (Laughs.) So that the was the end of his part time work there!
So it was mostly the actions of the three chiefs that kind of made you question all that and go against that?
What do you think of the fact that it’s all come back again? Do you have an opinion on the fact that they’re doing a referendum?
I always said let’s put it back to the people and put it to rest, but I don’t know if today I think we’re going down the same road. They should…if they wanted a vote, I guess, and it passed, then let’s wait another year and have a whole new election for those positions. You know? I think maybe that might work better, if they all went in as a new…they got staff people that can train them.
Do you think the document itself could be improved? They’re just taking it as it is an throwing it back out again.
I think we can live with that and as we go along, it could be like growing pains. If we have to amend something, it could be done. But I think it was basically a good document after I started studying it. If people wouldn’t be so stubborn. A lot of it is stubbornness.
What do you think drove the whole campaign to quash it? Was it people just weren’t sophisticated enough or something like that or do you think there were other motivations going on? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.
I think there was people in the background. If you’re doing something wrong, you don’t want a court system. I think they blamed the constitution for the court system. A lot of them that were sued, they were found guilty.
So to get rid of the court you get rid of the constitution? I’ve heard that from lots of people.
That’s what I thought. Because the very ones, to this day, they’re millionaires. You know how they made their money. And they want to rule the reservation. Even though they don’t believe in the system too.
My last question will be…looking back on your life of public service, and also your husband, Speed was tribal chief and did a lot for the community…what would you like to see for the future of Akwesasne? You’ve seen the changes, and you’ve seen a lot of changes in your life. What do you think we really need to work on around here?
Family values. It’s being lost. People are doing whatever they want. I find that the younger generation…they’ve had everything all their lives. They never had to know, they never knew what it was like not to have money, so then they just… I don’t know. There’s so much of this drug traffic and other things like that, the easy money is getting them … I come out of the casino, one day Maggie and I came out of the casino and there’s this…she didn’t even look sixteen, she drove a Hummer in there. And you know how much Hummers cost, so she must have money to have it, or her boyfriend. And us, we had to wait. You don’t even see a rez car around anymore!
Those old beat up Grand Prix and stuff like that?
People today, they don’t even have to work.