The Oneida Business Committee Passed An Illegal Emergency Resolution Amending Tribal Election Law Without Informing General Tribal Council

[Publisher’s Note:  An earlier version of this post stated that the Amendments to the Constitution of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin were not officially recognized as being in effect with the authorization of the U.S. Dept. of Interior. Oneida Eye is now of the opinion that all five amendments are in effect, but as noted below it is our understanding that an appeal has been filed with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA). Oneida Eye regrets the error and does not believe the appeal is likely to be successful, but we stand by our contention that the Oneida Business Committee should have asked General Tribal Council to approve any amendments to the Oneida Election Law at the July 6, 2015 GTC Meeting rather than usurping that authority by passing ‘Emergency Amendments’ under the false claims of ‘health, safety & welfare’ of the Tribe while being secretive and withholding information from General Tribal Council.]

On Sunday June 28, 2015, the Oneida Business Committee voted to pass an Emergency OBC Resolution amending the Oneida Election Law claiming that the U.S. Department of Interior had ratified all five amendments to the Oneida Tribal Constitution from the May 2015 Secretarial Election and all five were therefore in effect.


The Emergency OBC Resolution states:

WHEREAS, on June 16, 2015 the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs approved by certification the amendment to Section 2 of Article III of the Oneida Tribal Constitution to change the age of a qualified voter from twenty-one (21) and over to eighteen (18) and over; and

WHEREAS, on June 16, 2015, the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs approved by certification to amend the name of the “Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin” to the “Oneida Nation” throughout the Constitution…

But an employee in the office of BIA Midwest Regional Deputy (and Acting) Director–Indian Service, Scott Sufficool told GTC advocate Brad Graham that the Amendments weren’t considered ratified and in effect until and unless they received signed authorization by a higher authority in the Department of the Interior after all challenges and appeals had been exhausted.

Oneida Eye has been told that on Thursday July 9, 2015, Tribe member Madelyn Genskow formally filed a Notice of Appeal to challenge to the certification of the Secretarial Election results with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) and now has 30 days from that date to file all documentation before the IBIA’s deliberation even begins.

Deputy/Acting Regional Director Scott Sufficool did send OBC Chair Cristina Danforth a letter which notes the certification of the vote totals noting that the five Amendments have “become effective this date,” but it was not clear if that meant “effective” for consideration of the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Interior to either allow or disallow ratification of each amendment based on the end of all challenges and appeals.

Having spoken with BIA officials, including Secretarial Election Board Chair Scot Cameron, Oneida Eye is of the opinion that Scott Sufficool’s letter DID convey that the Department of the Interior has officially certified five Amendments to the Oneida Constitution, but that did not automatically change the Oneida Election Law. We do not believe that constituted sufficient grounds for the ‘Emergency’ OBC Meeting to adopt ‘Emergency’ amendments to the Oneida Election Law.

When General Tribal Council members challenged OBC at the July 8, 2015, as to what constituted the grounds for OBC to declare an ‘Emergency’ and amend the Election Law without General Tribal Council’s approval being sought, they were told that it was being done for the “health, safety & welfare” of the Tribe means (rather than, y’know, protecting people from waste gasification and plastics-to-oil schemes by Oneida Seven Generations Corporation.)

In Oneida Eye’s view, the OBC did not have sufficient grounds to pass an Emergency Amendment to the Oneida Election Law on Sunday June 28, 2015, and at the very least should have sought General Tribal Council’s retro-approval of the OBC’s June 28 Emergency Amendments at the July 6, 2015 Semi-Annual GTC Meeting.

In fact, the OBC did not even inform GTC at the Semi-Annual GTC Meeting that such a dire ‘Emergency’ that threatened the ‘health, safety & welfare’ of the Tribe even existed much less had required an ‘Emergency’ meeting and ‘Emergency’ amendments to the Oneida Election Law rather than wait an allow GTC to adopt the appropriate amendments.

THEREFORE, we consider Emergency OBC Resolution 06-28-15 to be unconstitutional & illegal because OBC did not have ‘Emergency’ grounds to usurp GTC’s authority to amend the Election Law, and OBC failed to give GTC an opportunity to make the decision to amend the Election Law at the July 2015 GTC Semi-Annual Meeting.

Chief Counsel Jo Anne House who – along with the OBC – was told by Brad Graham at the Wednesday July 8, 2015 OBC Regular Meeting that Emergency OBC Resolution 06-28-15 did not seem to be legal which would therefore mean that the Semi-Annual GTC Meeting which allowed 18-20 year-olds to attend and vote seemed to have been held in an unconstitutional manner and questioned if the votes taken should be binding, and challenged whether the Special Election held Saturday July 11, 2015 would be unconstitutional and illegal given that 18-20 year-olds were allowed to vote.

Chief Counsel Jo Anne House refused to answer Brad Graham’s assertion one way or the other at the Wednesday July 8, 2015 OBC Regular Meeting.

One Thursday July 9, 2015 Brad Graham verified with Dpt./Acting Midwest Regional Director Scott Sufficool’s assistant that neither DOI Sec. Jewell nor Asst. Sec.–Indian Affairs Washburn had ratified any amendments to the Oneida Constitution and that the OBC was not authorized to make any Emergency Amendments to Oneida Laws on that basis.

Oneida Eye believes that the unresponsiveness of Chief Counsel Jo Anne House may have been due to the fact that she knew there was no real ‘Emergency’ basis on which OBC could justify usurping General Tribal Council’s authority by amending the Oneida Election Law on false grounds of a threat to ‘health, safety & welfare’ rather than ask GTC to make the amendment itself at the Semi-Annual GTC Meeting.

Note that OBC Vice-Chair Melinda Danforth has been in charge of the Secretarial Election process on the Tribe’s end, and that the illegal OBC Emergency Resolution to amend the Election Law is done under the auspices of the Legislative Procedures Act and OBC Member Brandon Stevens is the Legislative Operating Committee Chair.

They are directly responsible for much of the ongoing confusion that has been created surrounding the Secretarial Election process.

See also:


UPDATE [7/11]: An Oneida Tribe member informed Oneida Eye that when he arrived to vote at the Oneida Health Center polling site around 7:05 a.m. on Saturday July 11, 2015 he was told he was to be the first person to vote and the Election Board employees asked him to sign a document stating that the ballot box was empty.

The Oneida Election Law states at 2.9-3 (a)

If a ballot counting machine is used, the ballot counting machine shall be prepared prior to 7:00 a.m. on the day of the election. The Judges shall open the polls only after four (4) Tribal members verify, through signature on the tape, the ballot box is empty and the ballot counting machine printer tape has a zero (0) total count.

The Tribe member agreed to sign the document but told the Election Board workers in effect: “There’s no guarantee that illegal ballots won’t be added to the ballot box after I leave.”

Good point.

Which is why there should be a video recording available upon request of the ballot area from the the time the machine is plugged in until the vote tabulation is complete.

Of course, the Oneida Business Committee claims that it and it’s staff are too technologically ignorant to even figure out how to record videos of OBC Regular Meetings and post them in the ‘Member’s Only’ area of the Tribe’s website as was long the practice.

That ended in September 2014 just after the new OBC was sworn in. (Which was also around the same time that the new OBC stopped posting Oneida Business Committee Executive & Emergency Meeting Agendas on the ‘Member’s Only’ area of Tribe’s website. Oneida Eye was only able to obtain a copy of the one above from a Norbert Hill Center employee.)

Is the Oneida Business Committee and its staff truly so ignorant that, even in a day and age when recording & posting (not to mention live-broadcasting) OBC Meetings requires nothing more than a used cell phone & a free app, and despite the Tribe’s $450 Million budget, for almost an entire year they haven’t been able to figure out how to record & post videos of OBC Meetings to the ‘Member’s Only’ area of the Tribe’s website so that Tribe members can actually know what’s going on in their government in a timely manner? Not even audio? Really?

Or are the Oneida Business Committee just continuing to lie & hide and undermine the governing body of the Tribe?


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