Tribal Constitutions, Bylaws and Ordinances:
Developing and Rewriting Your Documents

Your tribal constitution is the guide to governing your organization. It is the cornerstone of a stable tribal government and skillfully balances the rights of the people against those of the government. It should project a positive image of the tribe as an entity that deserves respect and high standing in Indian society and the community at large.

During this class, youíll discover how your constitution impacts the way you govern; tools to help you use your constitution to manage your tribal organization; how to work within the bounds of your constitution as you develop ordinances; and how to amend your tribal constitution to meet the needs of your growing and changing tribe. If you havenít developed a constitution, youíll learn the functions and purposes of a constitution, key elements of the writing process and what components to include.

If you’re an elected tribal official, part of the tribal administrative staff or a BIA employee with responsibilities related to tribal governments, this class will offer the insight and skills to meet the governing challenges that tribes face today.

T O P I C S   I N C L U D E
Tribal Cultures and Constitutions
  • Balancing tradition with current demands
  • Incorporating cultural values
  • Maintaining your history
Federal Control of Tribal Constitutions
  • Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)
  • Amendments to the IRA
  • Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA)
  • Case law
Constitution Functions and Purposes
  • Traditional forms of organization:
    • Separation of powers
    • Tribal government models
  • Promoting good government
  • Removal of federal intervention provisions
  • Interpreting constitutional language:
    • Constitutions as seen by courts
    • Avoiding conflict
  • Stability of tribal governments
  • Why constitutions fail:
    • Tribal members’ expectations
    • Unrealistic goals
Writing the Constitution
  • Drafting the constitution
  • The outline — what to include
  • Legal writing using plain language
Features and Considerations
  • Preamble
  • Territory and jurisdiction
  • Adoption and certification
  • Membership and rights of members
  • Enrollment and elections process:
    • Blood quantum
    • Certificate of results of election
  • Sovereign immunity
  • Tribal governmental power:
    • Roles of officers
    • Removal from office and forfeiture
    • Filling of vacancies
  • Council meetings
  • Popular participation in tribal government
Beyond Constitutions
  • The use of ordinances, bylaws and charters
  • Authority, purpose and scope
Resolving Conflicts and Challenges
  • Strengthening tribal sovereignty
  • Transitions of power
  • Enforcing the constitution
  • Informing tribal members
  • Case studies
Checks and Balances
  • Separation of powers:
    • The tribal general council
    • Executive, legislative and judicial authority
  • Role of elders, clans and societies
  • Role of men and women
Revising and Amending the Constitution
  • Determining needs and outcomes:
    • Public input
    • Impact on existing constitution
    • Intended and unintended consequences
  • The process
  • Adoption procedures
  • Harmony within the constitution
The Ratification Process
  • Organizing and staffing for adoption success
  • Analyzing your community
  • The constitution survey
  • Political support for change
  • Education and community meetings
  • What can go wrong?

*Topics subject to change.

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