The New Government Takes Power

On July 1, 1995, the new government under the tribal constitution was sworn into office. Philip H. Tarbell was sworn in as Tribal Council Chairman and Rudolph T. Hart, Douglas A. Smoke, Alan R. White, and Lois A. Thomas were sworn in as members of the Tribal Council. (Lois Thomas was sworn in to replace the late Frederick W. White.) Norman J. Tarbell and Lincoln C. White were sworn in as Tribal Chief Executive and Vice-Chief, respectively, four days later.169

On July 18, 1995, Tribal Chief Executive Norman J. Tarbell issued a memo to the tribal administrator, his assistant, and all department heads. The memo was titled, Conducting Official Business within the Executive Branch of the Tribal Government and was the product of consultant Henry Flood. It stated in no uncertain terms that the separation of powers in the new form of government had ended the Three Chief System once and for all and replaced it with a single Tribal Chief Executive who sat at the top of the governmental hierarchy:

Can Tribal Council Members Directly ask Executive Branch Employees to Perform Work for the Council?

The general answer to this question is “No.” If individual Tribal Council members ask you to do work that is Tribal Council work, you should not accept the request without specific approval. Of course, we will often do things for the benefit of the Tribal Council that facilitates joint cooperation. But your actions on behalf of the Tribal Council must not be inconsistent with your official duties and not the agenda of the Executive Branch…

How does the Tribal Council Affect our Work?

The main responsibility of the Tribal Council is to establish broad Tribal policy through the passing of Tribal laws and resolutions. Some of these laws, policies and resolutions will be initiated exclusively by the Tribal Council. Some will be suggested on a needs basis by me or others within the Executive Branch.

Once the Tribal Council passes a valid law or policy resolution, we here in the Executive Branch of government must carry out the decisions of the Tribal Council even if we disagree with the decision…170

The new government also issued informational material about the new changes under the titles, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Organizational Structure and New Mohawk Tribal Constitution: Questions and Answers.171

A regional newspaper chronicled the early days of the Constitutional Government in a story titled, “Mohawks: Constitution Has Glitches But Worth the Trouble.”

“We’re a month into the new system and it’s ridiculous to think there wouldn’t be a few glitches,” St. Regis Mohawk tribe spokesman Joseph D. Gray said.

“In the next few months, you’ll see a more clearly defined relationship between the branches.”172

The article went on to describe one of those glitches:

But already, weaknesses in the system are emerging through different interpretations of those responsibilities.

The fate of a casino contract is still unclear since the Tribal Council attacked the agreement between the tribe and a St. Louis, Mo.-based casino company.

A management contract sent to the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency that must approve gaming agreements between the tribe and outside operators, is on hold.

But although the NIGC rejected the validity of the contract itself, the tribal dispute over the responsibilities of the branches highlights the potential for problems.

A resolution passed by the Tribal Council last month requested the NIGC return the gambling agreement with President Casinos, claiming it was not in the best interests of the tribe.

Norman J. Tarbell, the sole chief and leader of the executive branch, refused to recognize the legislature’s action.173

Casino contracts would continue to be a source of conflict for the new government, but there were also areas where the two branches of tribal government agreed and cooperated. On August 25th of 1995, the Tribal Chief Executive and St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council requested funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs “to assist the Tribe in implementing the newly ratified Constitution of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.”174

169  SRMT Tribal Clerk’s Office, Certification, New Government Structure Under Constitution, December 12, 1995, p. 1-2. Index # TC—VII—11.
170  SRMT Memorandum, Norman J. Tarbell, Tribal Executive to Tribal Administrator, Assistant Tribal Administrator, and All Department Heads, Re: Conducting Official Business within the Executive Branch of the Tribal Government, p. 5-6. Index # TC—VI—13.
171  SRMT Organizational Structure, no date, (1995).  Index # TC—VI—19.  “New Mohawk Tribal Constitution: Questions and Answers, (no date, (1995).  Index # TC—VII—8.
172  “Mohawks: Constitution Has Glitches But Worth the Trouble,” The Watertown Daily Times, August 6, 1995.
173  Ibid.
174  SRMT Letter from Norman J. Tarbell, Tribal Chief Exective, et al., to Franklin Keel, Acting Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, August 25th, 1995.  Index # TC—VII—7.

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