Muscogee Constitution Commissioner Criticizes Tribe's Supreme Court Ruling
1979 Muscogee (Creek) Constitution Commissioner Robert Trepp has issued a detailed criticism of the ruling by the tribe's Supreme Court last week in the growing crisis caused by Principal Chief Ellis's attempt to limit the appropriation powers of the Muscogee National Council.
"They have ignored the plain language of the Constitution for partisan political purposes, and have invented an interpretation which no other constitutional democracy would permit or survive," Trepp said. "This limits the ability of every citizen to have a voice in how their money is spent."
"Our Constitution assigns the National Council the power to legislate on all appropriations from tribal funds. This court took language which limits the authority of the Principal Chief to administer funds--which requires the advice and consent of the Council--and they have applied those words as a limit on the Council's exclusive power to appropriate funds."
"It doesn't take a lawyer to understand this. Any citizen can read our Constitution and figure this out for themselves. It takes a lawyer 25 pages to explain why our Constitution doesn't mean exactly what it says."
Trepp was one of five Commissioners who oversaw the ratification of the 1979 Constitution, and served in both the Cox and Fife administrations.
"Not the Congress, no state legislature, no board of county commissioners and no city or town council in this country can be presented a budget and told that they can only approve it or disapprove it, but they cannot amend it," Trepp continued.
"Elected representatives, in our tribal government as well as other representative democracies, are the guardians of the people's money, the public treasury. This ruling would strip them of that role."
"This Court has ignored the plain language of our Constitution, which says that all bills have the same procedures, that all approved bills can be vetoed, and that all vetoed bills, if overridden, become law. This majority has somehow ruled that our tribal budget is outside this process, and that the Chief does not have to follow a budget which is adopted over his veto."
"And the language they rely upon isn't really there. They say the Chief is required to submit an annual budget. That's not what our Constitution says. The plain words are that he 'shall prepare an annual budget request.' The Constitution calls it a request. The Chief only prepares it, and it's only a request until the Council approves it."
"The budget is not a joint decision as they claim, it is a normal legislative process. The Principal Chief prepares the budget request. The Council reviews it, amends it, and makes appropriations. The Chief administers those appropriations. That's the process. The Constitution makes it clear. Since 1979, no Principal Chief has had trouble understanding this. Chief Ellis got upset that he didn't get exactly what he wanted in last year's budget, and a majority of the Court is ready to intentionally misinterpret our Constitution in order to give him some small measure of support right before election day."
"They talk about separation of powers in our tribal towns. That's true. But the tribal towns also have procedures. Certain things must be done, and done right, before other things can be done. Our people understand procedures. They don't understand this ruling."
Tribal primary elections will be held September 22. Absentee ballots are ready to mail out. Ellis is seeking re-election against four opponents: Jeff Fife, George Tiger, Jason Nichols and Marc Fields.
"Even more troubling is their attempt to silence the National Council's attorney, and, possibly, its members, by threatening him with imprisonment for simply understanding the plain language of our Constitution, language that one Justice understood and agreed with. The attorney didn't slug somebody in Court. He expressed his well-informed legal opinion to his client."
Trepp says he plans to contact U.S. Attorneys' offices in Oklahoma to see if federal laws cover conspiracies to violate the free speech provisions of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
"They are censuring the Council for not following a procedure that the Court didn't even try to make clear until this ruling was published last week. Nothing in their previous ruling said that the Council could not amend the budget request. And nothing in this ruling tells us what this new process is now. I don't know how the Council can keep operations running past October first, because I don't know how they can do their jobs under our Constitution and within their oath of office."
"I've observed tribal politics closely for 32 years. This is the most blatant abuse of power I have seen. The citizens' reactions to this are already overwhelming. My phone hasn't stopped ringing and I can't answer all the e-mails. They want a democratic government, and they want the Council to have the authority that our Constitution has spelled out for it. This is damaging to everyone."
Trepp was consultant to the tribe's Election Board in 1975 when the first elections since 1903 were held.
"What has upset our citizens as much as the ruling is the blatant attempt of the Court to influence absentee voters within a time frame that doesn't allow for real debate and discussion. We've got almost three weeks before we walk into our precincts. Their ballots are in the mail."
Trepp was raised in Tulsa, attended college in Fayetteville, and has lived in the Duck Creek Community for 29 years. He is from the Beaver Clan of Loca'pokv Tribal Town.
"Local voters are already planning ways to help their neighbors get out and vote so that the absentees can't swing this election based on this attempt to shame our Council for simply doing their job. There's already a real backlash against this ruling, and its effects will last for years."
The complete majority ruling and dissenting opinion can be found here:
Robert W. Trepp
P.O. Box 9853
Tulsa, OK 74157-0853
TO SUBMIT an ARTICLE, OPINION PIECE, COMMENTS to the Native Unity Digest, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.
AIROS NATIVE NETWORK plays music, news and other great programs from Indian Country - www.airos.org
FOR NATIVE CELEBRITY NEWS - go to www.nativecelebs.com
Visit Vietnam Vet. LARRY MITCHELL at http://www.potawatomivet.com and click on his blog at the site.
NATIVE BIZ LEARNING CENTER - www.learn.nativebiz.com was developed for tribal education specialists serving tribal communities. Any tribal community can register at NO COST.
SUPPORTING NATIVE AMERICAN/FIRST PEOPLE - ARTISTS, FILM MAKERS, ENTERTAINERS, ETC. http://www.krystynmedia.blogspot.com.