A Tribal Court Judge is Appointed
One of the first acts of the new Tribal Council would be the appointment of a Tribal Court Judge, which they did by resolution TR 95-219 B on August 17, 1995. Christine Zachary Deom of Kahnawà:ke was appointed “immediately” for a term ending on June 30, 1996, at which time a new judge would be elected. The resolution called for the new judge to “design, implement and operate the Saint Regis Mohawk Court under the authorities set forth in Article X of the Tribal Constitution.”175
In September, a local non-native newspaper interviewed the new judge and published a story about her under the title, “New Chief Tribal Judge Sees Education as Key to Success.”
Born on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Zachary Deom is an attorney based on Cornwall Island, the Canadian side of the reserve.
She was admitted to the Bar in 1992. She holds a bachelor of laws degree from McGill University in Montreal, Que.…
The new judge will be busy overseeing the design, operation, and implementation of the tribe’s court system. She noted she is working with the jurisdiction issue, which has always existed, and hardening it into the tribal court.
“The jurisdiction extends to the complete territory over
peoples. All wrong-doings on our territory under the Mohawk
constitution are fit to be heard under the St. Regis Mohawk Court,” she
reported. “We can now hear what’s before us. I am the forum to be
heard, I’m not a legal opinion.” 176
Starting in January of 1996, Judge Deom began to rule on questions about the new constitution. One question was “Is the Tribal Chief correct in his assumption that Article XVIII (Savings Provision of the Constitution) upholds his belief that Department Head and Administrative positions do not need reconfirmation during this first year?”177
The issue has been to determine the scope of authority and responsibility of the Chief Executive for appointing Executive Branch employees to key positions with the new tribal government. The Tribal Chief Executive is empowered to appoint the Tribal Administrator, other officers and heads of government departments, with the approval of the Tribal Council. Such appointments serve until replaced at the request of the Chief.178
On January 3, 1996, the same day that Judge Deom issued this ruling, the Tribal Council issued Council Rules and Procedures for Conducting: Investigations of Wrongdoing by Appointed and Elected Officials of the Tribal Government and Oversight Hearings in which they claimed aggressive investigative powers. They also issued Council Rules and Procedures for Conducting: Oversight Hearings and Performance Reviews of Executive Branch Department, Functions and Activities. This was a bucket of cold water for the idea that the Tribal Chief Executive was the pinnacle of power. It authorized the Tribal Council or any duly authorized committee to investigate, among other things:
A. The efficiency and economy of operations of all branches of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal government including the possible existence of fraud, misfeasance, malfeasance, collusion, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, waste, conflict of interest or other unethical practices.
B. The abuse of improper expenditure of Tribal, Federal, State or other funds regardless of source. In carrying out the provisions of this subsection, the Tribal Council’s scope of study and investigation shall extend to transactions, contracts, grants, activities of the Tribal Government, or of Tribal Government officials and any improper relationship between Tribal Government officials and other individuals, corporations, individual companies or persons affiliated therewith doing business with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Government…179
Does the Chief Executive Officer have the capability to render duly passed legislation null and void by refusing to act on it?
Is the Legislative Body correct in assuming that any measure not acted upon within the prescribed Five (5) day period becomes official irregardless (sic) of the Chief Executive’s inaction?
Can the Constitution of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe be amended by an act of the Tribal Council, notwithstanding the provisions of Article XVI of the Constitution?180
On February 28, 1996, Judge Deom responded:
With respect to the first question…I hold that the Chief Executive Officer does not have the capacity to render duly passed legislation null and void by refusal to act.
The Chief Executive Officer is mandated by the Constitution of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to veto the legislation he disapproves of within a five day time limit with a statement of objections.
The Chief Executive Officer failing to act by a statement of objection to veto such measure within the time limit can only lead to the following conclusions, that:
- the law, ordinance, resolution or separate appropriation item is approved and is law,
- the Chief Executive Officer has failed to veto within the time limit for such veto and does not wish to veto such a measure.
With respect to the second question, I therefore hold that the Legislative Body or Tribal Council is correct in assuming that any measure not acted upon with the prescribed five day period by way of the veto power becomes a perfected measure unless the Chief Executive has returned the measure with his statement of objections and reasons within the time allowed for Veto action.
With respect to the third question I hold that the following Article XVI of the Constitution of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe such Constitution can only be amended by a majority vote of the eligible voters of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in a duly called election provided that at least thirty percent of the eligible voters vote in the election. I further hold that procedures to enact ordinances and adopt resolutions are a function of the Legislative Body consistent with the Constitution of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe…181
Even with the judicial branch taking shape, the new
government was still experiencing growing pains. The Tribal Chief
Executive seemed to view the Tribal Council as little more than policy
drafters, while the Tribal Council apparently saw the Tribal Chief
Executive as little more than an elected chief administrative officer
whose decisions they could approve or deny. These interpretations of
the constitution could not have been more fundamentally opposed. They
probably would have led to a major impasse on council had something
else not risen up in the meantime to claim that honor.