Tribal member proposes a bigger role for General Council

By Marlon WhiteEagle

A District 5 tribal member wants the General Council to support his proposed amendments to the Ho-Chunk Nation Constitution. His changes would give the General Council a bigger role in the Ho-Chunk Nation government structure.
William Winneshiek Jr., of Long Beach, California, wants to clarify that “the people of the Ho-Chunk Nation grant all inherent sovereign powers to the General Council,” as stated in our constitution.
“My proposed amendment requires a significant increase in staffing for the General Council. Part of my proposed amendment includes a detailed review process for legislation put out by elected officials to be conducted by the General Council,” Winneshiek said.
“Some of the stuff I’ve seen on 45-day review was atrocious. In my proposed amendment there would be no more executive session meetings without the General Council present.  We will be involved with any and all meetings.”
He believes the constitutional amendment is needed to establish the General Council’s sovereignty.
“We have laws, codes, and acts that are non-compliant with our constitution,” Winneshiek said.
Winneshiek points to last year’s General Council resolution to dissolve the General Council Agency (GCA) as an example of non-compliance.
The constitution references the GCA, but there’s still a need for approval from the Secretary of the Interior for a constitutional amendment, he said.
Winneshiek references an October 4, 2016 letter to the Ho-Chunk Nation president, vice president, and legislature where Ho-Chunk Nation Attorney General Amanda WhiteEagle states, “If the General Council wishes to dissolve the General Council Agency in its entirety, then it will require a constitutional amendment to do so.”
“Elected officials dissolved the General Council Agency with the Office of General Council Establishment and Organization Act, but our constitution still references GCA,” Winneshiek said.
“Legislators have not requested a Secretarial Election to make known amendments to our constitution to date. The attorney general legally advised elected officials to remove reference to GCA from our constitution.”
Last year’s resolution, 09-17-2016-01, to dissolve the GCA was unconstitutional, as the GCA was added to the Constitution by Secretarial Election.
General Council Advocate Joy Thompson-Bonanno also sees a flaw in the resolution.
“If you look at the Constitution, it says that General Council ‘retains the power to establish its own procedures in accordance with this Constitution.’ I do not see the actions that took place last year at General Council as following the constitution in regards to the GCA,” Thompson-Bonanno said.
“If anything, the resolution should have called for a Constitutional Amendment Election for this to be voted on.  In most cases, the Legislature has not entertained this type of resolution unless the specific language calls for a Secretarial Election or Constitutional Amendment Election.  These types of resolutions have been tossed out by legislature.”
The removal of the GCA should have been handled by the Ho-Chunk Nation Election Board according to the Election Code that has been adopted regarding Constitutional Amendment Elections, Thompson-Bonanno said.
Winneshiek points out problems within the GCA regarding financial issues, like hotel bills and mileage discrepancies.
“If the referenced financing was the only problem, there was a very simple and basic managerial resolve to a problem like this,” Winneshiek said.
“If that was all that was going on, there was not a reason to dissolve GCA. Management should have corrected the financing problem.”
In the General Council article of the constitution, he proposes an elected position of General Council Branch Director to oversee each branch of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
“General Council meetings would not change, aside from being held quarterly, livestreaming, online voting, and electronic interaction between General Council members who are unable to attend the meetings,” Winneshiek said.
The General Council Branch Director and reporters from the Hocak Worak would be notified and permitted to attend any Ho-Chunk Nation closed, special, or executive session meeting if the proposed amendment were to be passed in a secretarial election.
“Reporters of the Hocak Worak would not be permitted to attend meetings related to the hiring and firing of personnel,” Winneshiek said. “The General Council would become the governing body of the Ho-Chunk Nation.”
The General Council branch director would approve annual budgets at quarterly General Council meetings where each branch of the government would present their annual budget, as well as goals and objectives.
Winneshiek also proposes, prior to voting on annual budgets, that budgets would be published in the Hocak Worak, on the Nation’s website, and mailed to the General Council 45 days prior to the General Council meeting.
In the General Council’s delegation of authority, Winneshiek’s amendment would authorize the legislative branch to make laws and appropriate funds; and the executive branch to enforce laws and administer funds. But both branches would need approval from the General Council Branch Director.
The proposal would have the judicial branch authorized to interpret and apply the laws and constitution “in consortium with the General Council Branch Director.”
Further, Winneshiek proposes the legislature create a means “to conduct a financial audit of the Ho-chunk Nation’s financial holdings” that would be “conducted by an impartial and independent financial firm approved by the General Council Branch Director.”
The financial audit would be completed “in consortium” with the General Council or its representative.
Winneshiek outlines a way for General Council resolutions to be implemented and resolved within one year of their passage.
Winneshiek’s constitutional amendment also provides a definition for malfeasance as “conduct that is wrongful or unlawful.”
In his proposal, Winneshiek creates a quarterly meeting among the General Council Branch Director, President, Vice President, Attorney General, Treasurer, Executive Directors, Gaming Commissioners, and Casino Executive Managers to maintain and enhance compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Qualifications for the General Council Branch Director would be similar to the president’s qualifications. Age limit would be 35 years old. The director should have a master’s degree and be cognizant of the Ho-Chunk Nation language, culture, and traditions.
Legislature would be required to post laws, codes, ordinances, resolutions, and statues out for 45 day review in the Hocak Worak, on the Nation’s website, and mailed to the General Council. Comments from tribal members and responses from the legislature would also be posted, while the General Council Branch Director would verify comments were resolved before proceeding with changes.
Winneshiek also adds transparency to vendor selection and the three bid process. He also adds language to Ho-Chunk hiring preference for outside vendors and contractors.
Qualifications would change, again, to require a bachelor’s degree for members of legislature and the president.
Winneshiek’s amendment also adds language that “the Attorney General is the enforcer and prosecutor of all crimes committed against the Ho-chunk Nation. The Attorney General shall ensure our constitution, laws, codes, and statutes are enforced.”
Crimes against the Ho-Chunk Nation would be reported to the Ho-Chunk Nation Police Department and added in a section to the Judiciary Article.
So far, the General Council advocate has not received any resolutions for this year’s General Council meeting scheduled for September 16.
“I know that Bill is wanting to restructure the entire HCN Constitution and that that is a bold undertaking, which will take more than one resolution to do so,” Thompson-Bonanno said.