Modern Tribal Governments
The Sioux people are among the many Native American tribes. The term Sioux, according to Gibbon, may represent any of the various ethnic groups within the large nation of Sioux, or even any of the Sioux’s many language dialects. The Sioux comprises three main divisions which are distinguished by the Siouan tongue and sub-culture. These divisions are Isáŋyathi or Eastern Dakota, Thítȟuŋwaŋ or Lakota and the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ also known as Western Dakota (Gibbon 9). However, this presentation will concentrate on the traditional tribal government of the Dakotas in relation to their modern tribal government.
The historical system of government lied on individual participation and collaboration in terms of efforts, this aimed at sustaining the Sioux’s way of life. Political leaders were selected based on noble origins and a portrayal of chiefly virtues. Such chiefly virtues included courage, fortitude, big-heartedness and practical wisdom.
In the traditional governments of the Sioux nation, power emanated from the community and flowed down to the leaders. In this traditional context, a person’s status was determined by his ability and performance. In general terms, the roles of the leaders were to serve the interests and the wills of their subjects and the village as a whole.
Among the Dakotas, fraternal societies, before the 20th century, had a central position in maintaining and sustaining of the Dakota society’s governing structure. For example, ‘soldiers lodge’ was one of such societies which was established in mid-1800s in order to govern the hunting missions of the Dakotas. It took up a very active role in villages of Sisseton, Wahpeton and Mdewakanton in 1862.
Among the Dakotas, the village council was the basic platform on which political deliberations and decision-making took place. During this traditional context, elders in this community raised the most important matters during the council’s sessions. Though anyone could raise their ideas during the council’s sessions, younger men tended to listen to the wise advice of the elders. In order to reach at a consensus on the many issues raised, each council member was afforded an opportunity to raise their views. Upon agreement on a particular matter and on the course of action to be taken, the council would proceed to other important issues. Failure to reach consensus on an issue would result in the delaying of the matter until an honored elder would raise it again for deliberation (Gibbon 21).
Among the Dakotas, individual chiefs did not hold any special privileges within the structure of a council. Their roles were basically to announce council decisions, to kick-start council meetings and to direct attention onto the issues. They had a lot of influence, for they portrayed great oratorical skills and good sense. Therefore, they played the role of ‘speaker’- an important position indeed. However, historically, the responsibility of the speaker is obscure but, nonetheless, they played significant roles in the councils. By the middle of the 19th century, they seem to have gained the honor through elections.
Several major societies rose in the late 1850s. Such societies included the Raw Fish Eaters Lodge, the Sacred Dance Lodge, the Bear Dance Society, the Dog Liver Eaters Lodge, and the Elk Lodge. These societies sought to maintain the culture of Dakota, resist the influence of Christianity and the loss of some of the territory of Dakota Sioux. The prominence of ‘soldiers lodge’ grew immensely as to gain control over the chiefs.
This traditional tribal government comprised of a leader and several of his advisors. The Dakota comprised of four Akicitas (warriors) whose role was to implement the decisions. All of them made up the council tents. Every warrior in the camp was given a stick, in the council tent, which was usually used for the purpose of counting and for use in moccasin game. The above is the type of tribal government that existed among the Dakotas of the Sioux nation.
According to O’ Brien, by early 1900s, the leadership of most tribes began to be offered by superintendents and agents who were appointed by the government. In this era, the Dakotas, as a traditional tribal group, experienced a decline in their land base, the disappearance of hereditary traditional chiefs, and an emergent control of their livestock by a new governance system. It was hard, according to an agency superintendent attached to Fort Totten, to get adequate representation for electing a business council. The superintendent observed that the Tribal Council’s officials were elderly people, most of them who were above the ages of 60 years and used Dakota dialect in their council’s proceedings (O’ Brien 21).
In the late 1950s through to the 1990s, both the autonomy and the authority of the tribal government of Dakota transitioned into the tribe from the Bureau of Indian affairs. Today, via its business council, the Spirit Lake Tribe runs under a constitutional framework and bylaws that were approved in 1946 and which have kept on being amended throughout the years. In 1996, the United States’ government sanctioned the tribe’s constitutional review. The Tribe’s name was changed to Spirit Lake.
As a modern government, the tribal business council governs the Spirit Lake Tribe. The Tribal Council comprises of six official members. The reservation has four political districts namely: Crow Hill District, St. Michael’s District and the Woodlake District. Elections for both the chairperson and the secretary are done at large. The appointment of the vice-chairperson is done from within the tribal council membership. Elections for these officials are held in May after every two years. What is prominent- in the modern tribal government of the Spirit Lake Sioux- is a system of leadership which is governed by a constitution that runs the formal government. Elected leaders tend to remain in for longer time. This brings about economic and political stability (North Dakota Studies).
When a comparison is made between the modern form of governance for the Dakotas and their traditional form of governance, several similarities and differences come out. In the traditional form of governance, there was neither a constitution nor a set of bylaws to govern the community. The community was guided by elders who constituted an important part of the council. However, in the modern system of government, there is a written down constitution for guiding the leaders and the people in general, in matters relating to governance. This transition, into a system of government that is run through written down laws, seems to owe its origins in the influence impacted upon this community by the more politically dominant settlers. The Western form of government that came with the settlers has influenced this tribal community to adopt some of Western values of governance.
In the traditional tribal government, the village council was the major unit of governance. However, in the modern system of governance, the Tribal Council is the major platform on which the agendas of the tribal government are deliberated. The basis on which leaders used to be identified has also changed. Formerly, such qualities like fortitude and bravery used to be the criteria on which to select leaders. However, in the modern times, that seems to have changed. Leaders who are elected to the business council are not necessary identified in accordance with such qualities like generosity or bravery. They are elected based on the social, economic and political ideas they uphold in relation to the community’s needs. Their leadership qualities are judged in terms of the amount of goals they have been able to achieve for the community.
In the traditional tribal government, decisions of the council used to be implemented by the warriors (Akicitas). This, however, is not the case with the modern government. In the modern tribal government, the executive arm is the one that is charged with the execution of decisions and policies.
Unlike in the past, the political positions of leadership are largely elective. For example, the Tribal Council consists of six members who are elected. In the former village councils, members were not necessarily elected. The positions were largely based on kinship ties and were to some extent hereditary.
Comparison of the traditional tribal government and the modern tribal government also reveals several similarities. In the traditional government, power was held by the community and percolated down to the leaders. This feature also underlies the modern system albeit indirectly. The fact that people have the power and the right of electing members of the Tribal Council means that they control the power relations in the community. Again, penetration of Western principles of democracy into the political life of the tribal community explains the current trend of electing political leaders.
In both the modern and the traditional governments, the role of the government system and of the leaders is to advance the interests of the people. The government systems seem to have been established out of the need to address and advance the interests of the people. These interests cut across the social, economic and political spheres.
In order to sustain the tribal government, the tribe has entered into gaming so as to help bolster the economy. However, the success of this business venture waits to be proved. Nonetheless, the potential effect of the various business ventures in the gaming industry could proof extensive. All such ventures have made issues of accountability and transparency as well as issues of the rights of the people to be of great concern.