Tribes to vote Saturday

 

By Tony Thornton
The Oklahoman

CONCHO - Members of the
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes will vote Saturday on a new constitution aimed at curbing long-standing claims of financial corruption.

ELECTION

What: Vote on a proposed constitution for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

When: 10 a.m. Saturday.

Where: Redlands Community College auditorium, El Reno.

 

"This is a progressive constitution that will bring us into the modern day and show that we are a self-determining government," said Vera Franklin, one of 18 constitutional committee members.

 

Franklin and other tribal members claim an antiquated, cookie-cutter constitution written by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is partially responsible for the tribes' constant state of upheaval.

 

A BIA review of the tribes' court system found that the Cheyenne and Arapaho government lacked a separation of powers. Court judges and the tribal prosecutor currently serve at the pleasure of an eight-person business committee, which is the tribes' main governing body.

 

The proposed constitution would replace the business committee with a governor, lieutenant governor and legislature. The governor would have veto power and ability to break tie votes.

 

A tribal treasurer would be a nonvoting member of the executive branch. Currently, the treasurer is a voting business committee member.

 

The tribal court system and election board would be independent of the legislature.

 

A current membership requirement of one-quarter Cheyenne or Arapaho blood would remain.

 

Tribal attorney Kyme McGaw said she is proud of the constitutional committee's final product.

 

"This is truly a grassroots effort. It's an effort by a diverse group of deeply respected tribal members who have experience and integrity and great insight into what has happened in the past and a vision for the future," McGaw said.

 

Other changes afoot

Many tribal members, including some current and former business committee members, say the tribes also have been hurt by a lack of accountability for casino profits.

 

That may change soon. Tribal officials last week received notice that the BIA had approved the tribes' revenue allocation plan.

 

The tribal council, consisting of all adult members, approved the plan in October 2001. A majority of the tribes' business committee opposed the plan and succeeded in delaying the federal review.

 

The tribes own the Lucky Star casinos at Concho and Clinton, plus a smaller gaming center at Watonga.

 

Gambling profits, estimated at $10 million during the past year, were doled out to the business committee members.

 

Under the revenue allocation plan, casino profits would be spent this way:

30 percent for economic development.

20 percent in direct annual payments to registered tribal voters.

16 percent for elder care.

10 percent for education.

10 percent for emergency assistance.

10 percent for culture and heritage.

4 percent for vehicle maintenance.