Randy Hart, Governance Committee Member
July 11, 2007
1. What is your opinion of the Three Chief System?
Obviously when you look at the three chief system it’s easy to look at what’s happening right now. If you look at the last year and all the trouble at least from the community members’ perspective at a tribal meeting where it appears all the time that the chiefs don’t appear to be responding to the needs or the wants or the desires of the community and so it seems it’s always a bitter battle, it’s always abusive and really rough where it seems like community members come to the meetings to attack the three chiefs and what they’re doing and what they believe they’re doing and so many times there’s miscommunication and it’s minor things that I feel could be easily taken care of. But for some odd reason, and I’ve talked to probably 20 of the last 30 chiefs, and I asked them how they felt, and they thought they were open and they were giving all the information to the community, and everybody loved them, and I was thinking, Gee, you know, sitting it the audience, we’re not seeing that, we’re not feeling that. I remind people that I remember a time years ago when I believe the three chiefs system was running properly. I know it’s hard to believe, but at one time, the three chiefs system, when it worked properly, had a desire to consult with the community. Yes, there was a group of people that came to every meeting and made sure that the procedures were followed, that the parliamentarian, which was the head chief, made sure the rules were adhered to, the tribal clerk kept the minutes and recorded things, and they were used as I believe they should be. If someone stood up and said, you lied, what have you, what did the minutes say? The clerk brought the minutes out, she went to that meeting, she said, here’s what the person said. And the chiefs said, they’re the minutes, they didn’t lie. I remember when Chief Maxwell Garrow was accused of stealing tribal money. Tribal clerk and the chiefs held a court right there, right there at the meeting. “You accuse Maxwell Garrow? What’s your claim?” They gave their claim. So Maxwell Garrow stood up and he had his receipts. He said, “this is the receipts.” And he showed them the books where he had taken money and bought a shovel, a pick and an axe for the cemetery, and he had used tribal money, and the $39.50, he had the receipt and he put it down there. The chief…well they didn’t have a hammer…the chief put their hand down and says, “No more. This is it.” He goes, “he’s not guilty.” He proved it. And everybody went on their way! There was no slanders in the newspapers and bickering for years and years. No on has probably ever heard that story. Why? Because it was settled. Nowadays, what have we got? (Laughs.) What have we got? We’ve got disaster! But I think for so many years when your government is being attacked and people are basically running, you don’t keep those things you need to keep up to date, like the process, the procedures that need to be in place. Years and years Vernie Herne was sort of the guy that stood at the door and he made sure you were a tribally enrolled member. People looked at him in different light, but that was his job, that’s what he believed that his calling was, I guess. Similar to me when I go in, I sit right in front of the chiefs and I question them on things. Now people might laugh and young people say, “why do you do that? You look like an idiot.” You know, well you don’t hear that too many times, and you stop going. Right? It isn’t until later, when they’re my age or older, and they say, “Randy, we’re glad you’re there. You’re keeping the chiefs honest.” They can’t say something, and I’m only going by memory. Just think if we had the tribal clerk giving us the minutes every month ahead of time so that we could read and we could see what people are doing and how things are answered. Wouldn’t that be nice? We used to do that, you know. We used to read the minutes. We used to have to approve the minutes.
Do they still do that?
No. Now it gets scrutinized by everybody but the community I think because it goes to the tribal attorneys and everybody’s got to cut everything out. We get them and there’s all these blotches. I said, “What is this? You can’t even understand what people are saying anymore.” But this is a breaking down of the system, and maybe there’s people out there that planned this, maybe they purposefully wanted this to happen, I don’t know. I’m hoping not. But I do mention to people very often, when we talk about the three chiefs system today, it’s nothing compared to what it should be and the way it was. When we voted on the constitution, I was saying to people, let’s go back and look at what we used to do, really what we used to do, not this two of the three running everything. And that gets me to, I guess, to the question, when we march down this road, and I could go back probably to right after the ’79-’80 crisis, people wanted reform. People said, “Something’s wrong. This system is broken, let’s fix it.” And I remember the first call, it was “Let’s write down what we’re supposed to be doing. Let’s write down our procedures.” How that got translated into a constitution, I’m not quite sure. I was kind of shocked when it came out later, they were writing a constitution. And I questioned it at a tribal meeting, it should be in the minutes somewhere. When did we decide to write a constitution? I reminded them that in the early days, the community member asked, “Let’s just write down what we do so everybody can see it.” I think a constitutional committee member said to me one time, “Well, Randy, when we started writing down what people that they did, it didn’t really make sense. It didn’t really have a whole lot behind it. So we just decided it would be better if we just went to writing a whole new constitution. Sort of that quick fix mentality that we have a lot of times. But I think there’s problems in the three chiefs system. And it’s unfortunate that we didn’t really do an in-depth research on the system and how it worked at one time. I’m not saying it would have been perfect because I think people are right today when they say that the complexities of our government now is vast. I mean, 200 and some odd programs, housing employees, I don’t think anybody back in the ‘60’s and ‘50’s and before that thought that we would ever get that big. So I think it needed to be updated, and I would have loved to have been able to work on updating it because I think it wouldn’t have taken a lot. It just need to be updated.
2. What is your opinion of the 1995 Tribal Constitution?
I think people who wrote the constitution, I think in their hearts and in their minds they thought they were doing what was best for the community. I think when you talk to them, and I talked to many of them, I think they immediately talk about the separation of powers, the independent court. The checks and balances that it created. I think people who were around during that one year where it was uninterrupted, it was being let alone to be developed, I think they had seen a different story. They’d seen the personalities and the conflicts, that power struggles within, and it was just like the old system. They brought the old dirty laundry to the new. It was like moving into a new house but you bring the old hatchets, right? It was the same thing, they see Norman and Phil fighting over power, they see the power struggles within, and the staff and everything within the system. Many times when Carol Herne and I talked about it, she’d say, “Randy, it didn’t change. It didn’t change, you know?” I think it would have changed over a period of time, but here again, we were almost excluding the one arm of the government, which was the courts, and naturally we can look at history and we can see how the courts got attacked. But internally the courts were being attacked, too. Norman didn’t want to listen to the courts. He was the CEO, he didn’t want to listen to the courts, and when the legislators were making laws that he had to follow, he didn’t want to follow them. He thought, “I’m in charge.” Just like the old system. So would history have looked at it any differently if we wouldn’t have had the big struggle, maybe in twenty years it would have killed itself. I like to think it wouldn’t have, but at the same time, the writing I think was on the wall, that it was a pretty good possibility.
So it had flaws that it wasn’t able to work out?
3. Briefly describe your involvement in tribal politics as it relates to the Tribal Constitution.
I’ve been following tribal politics since the mid-seventies. At one time during the ‘80’s, I had over ten years of not missing one meeting. I never missed a meeting until the constitutional dispute began, and I gave up. I literally gave up. I said I’m not coming to these meetings any more. I had been well on my way of ten straight years of not missing one meeting. And during that stretch I missed five meetings. (Inaudible) So I was frustrated for five meetings, half a year. At that half a year point I decided that I need to help resolve the problem. And that’s what I’m all about right now. I’m not looking to promote one government over the other, although my allegiance is with the three chiefs, I have a little bit of a soft spot for it, you might say, because I think it’s been written as a no good, useless, New York State-appointed system, and I feel that it was just one wrong after another and it’s been built up, but at the same time I look at the constitutional people and I feel that most of them are just saying “This is what we stood for back in ‘95 or whatever the year, and we want our story to be told. And that’s what I see, it’s just a bunch of people saying, “We believe this is the right thing that happened, or this is what happened, and our story isn’t being told.” And I’m hoping that someday we’ll be able to set some type of process in place for people to be able to tell their story, and then let’s move past it, let’s go forward. So my point right now is, I’m hoping that as a community, our leadership will make a strong commitment, and mean it, not just say it and not do it, but let’s make a commitment and let’s resolve this problem. The next problem after this, and there’s many, I mean, I talked about this yesterday, if we can get this governmental problem resolved, we can use this in other areas which we need, too. We’ve got a tribal/traditional dispute that needs to be seriously looked at, and that’s killing us probably more than anything else, but we won’t look at it, and I’m saying that’s one of our inherent flaws. Let’s look at their problems.
4. Looking back on your involvement, what would you have done differently if you had it all to do over again?
I’ve said this before and so I’ll repeat it. I don’t think there’s anything I could have done. I would have liked to have supported the tribal court a little bit more. I would have liked to have been involved earlier on and really got behind it during its weakest times, and ultimately, the shutdown. I would have loved to have been there, but I don’t think one person would have made a difference either way.
5. What changes would you like to see in your tribal government?
I really think that where our problem lies is all parties, if I can make that expression and the parties I’m referring to is the group called “the people,” so many times feel completely left out of the governmental process. They’re helpless, there’s no voice whatsoever. So somehow or another I would like to change that. Somehow we have to give them the power back, and I’m not sure exactly how that will work, but I’m trying to figure a way that the power can be given back to them the way I think it should be, but at the same time, even the three chiefs…and I was talking to the three chiefs recently…I was talking to Barb and we were having a real good conversation, and the others were there and they agreed after she talked about it, she said, “You know, Randy, we don’t really have that power. We don’t have that power, either. We’re basically following what somebody else told us to do or that we have to do or what the federal law say we have to do,” so she felt helpless too. And so I was wondering, well who’s running the ship here? Who is really in charge? A lot of the times they give the constitutional people credit for things we didn’t do. “You guys are the ones that did this! You’re the one that started this project.” Or “You’re the ones that made this happen.” And we’re saying, “Nobody listens to us!” We’re out there saying, “We call the Bureau and they say “Technically, we can take your call, we can be polite to you, but you have no voice here,” so we hang up, we stop communicating with them because they kept telling us the same thing. And then a week later, two weeks later, somebody says to us, “You guys! You guys stopped this project!” They don’t listen to us! How can it be? And then I hear them constantly blaming the co-op for doing things, and the co-op says, “We go down to Albany, and they quickly tell us, we’ll listen to you, but know that we only listen to the chiefs.” So who is actually running this then? I’d like to spend some time really finding that, and maybe I’ll never find it, but at least clarify it a little bit more, and hopefully somebody else can come and really do a better job of it. I’d like to start the process to get this clarified.