By Jennifer Perez University of Montana School of Journalism
ROCKY BOY Reorganization of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council has created subcommittees, so each tribe can take control and keep the organization connected to the grassroots needs of the tribes, under the leadership of Jonathan Windy Boy, who was recently reappointed to chair and also serves as Chippewa Cree tribal councilman.
Earlier this week in Billings the tribal leaders council unanimously passed a resolution creating 11 subcommittees and ratifying the reappointment of Windy Boy, who will serve as chairman until January 2003. Present were representatives of the Blackfeet, Shoshone, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne, and the Chippewa-Cree tribal councils.
The council unanimously voted for Windy Boy's reappointment during the Jan 29. regular council meeting, held in Billings, for one year or until the by laws were ratified. He was appointed as chair last August, replacing Dennis Big Hair of Crow, and is serving out his second two-year term as councilman.
Once tribal leaders get all the basic groundwork done for local issues for each tribe, they'll bring the items to the sub-committees, said Windy Boy, in an interview.
Windy Boy said quarterly, rather than monthly, meetings for the regular tribal leaders meeting will be held, allowing time for the sub-committees to conduct business.
Windy Boy said changing from monthly to quarterly meetings will also give him more freedom and time to visit each tribe on all of the reservations.
The subcommittees are the Montana-Wyoming Indian Stockgrowers Association, welfare reform, Native American Advisory Council, Montana-Wyoming Indian Health Board, law enforcement/tribal judges association, education, elder issues, internet/communications/newspaper, economic development, natural resources, highways/roads, Windy Boy said. He added that it will allow each tribe an opportunity to chair a subcommittee.
"Each individual committee can conduct business however they decide, with conference calls and at least monthly meetings. They are only going to be as strong, vocal and pro-active as that chair of that subcommittee will be," he said.
By the next council meeting scheduled for March 22 at the Sheridan Inn in Billings, the council will determine who will be chairman of each committee.
"It will not only enhance the organization, it will allow tribe to get more involved because each tribe will be represented in each sub-committee, so each committee will have 10 members, he said.
"We'll have a grassroots order, it'll be up to each sub-committee to address the collective local issues," he said.
"We will be going up the ladder from the local area to the regional and then to the national level, so all the issues and items such as distribution methods and formulas will be brought from the local level.
"It'll give us an opportunity to address area issues to particular areas and become more effective, while giving us an opportunity to pursue our efforts in moving forward with our coalition of large land-based tribes.
"Basically we'll go through a process of meetings," he said, adding that it will be a gradual transition.
"To bring each issue to the forefront, each subcommittee will provide quarterly reports at the regular meeting, whether they are resolutions or action items, because each tribe will be involved in each subcommittee and will all be able to speak for their tribes," Windy Boy said.
There are organizations that will enhance these subcommittees, for example, Cherish our Indian Children has been involved in bringing important issues to light, he said.
In the future, organizations, presenters, and tribal members who want to meet with the tribal leaders will have to contact the council's executive director Gordon Belcourt, who will direct them to the appropriate subcommittee, he said.
Windy Boy said the chairmen of each subcommittee will be responsible for providing technical assistance to their subcommittee. For example, whichever tribe decides to chair law enforcement will work with that tribe's BIA and law enforcement to provide any type of training and technical assistance to host, for example, a Montana-Wyoming law enforcement-training conferences, he said.
The sub-committee for the Native American Advisory Council will entertain the state and Gov. Judy Martz' concern as far as having an advisory council to the state and enhance the Coordinator of Indian Affairs office, he said.
"Right now, how it is set up, there is no reporting mechanism set up for the Native American Advisory Council," said Windy Boy, "there is no accountability."
Talks of reorganizing the leaders council have been brewing for years. Formerly known as the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Chairman's Association, in 1996 the tribes established a regional office in Billings and coordinated intertribal efforts between all Montana and Wyoming tribal governments.
The tribal leaders council consists of 10 tribal governments, which includes eight tribal governments in Montana and two tribal governments in Wyoming.
"For the three years since we've been on the council, we've submitted drafts for reorganization of the tribal leaders council," said Fort Belknap Community Council President Joe McConnell in an interview on Feb. 26. In the draft resolution, Fort Belknap recommended that the leaders council be renamed to United Indian Nations of Montana and Wyoming and that sub-committees be formed for the council, McConnell said.
"Indian Country is at a crossroads right now," said McConnell. "We have ten voices. We need one organization that carries out that voice."
Windy Boy said the council unanimously voted to keep the organization intact under the existing bylaws with the inclusion of the subcommittees.
Currently, each tribe has one vote on the tribal leaders council and the tribal chairmen designate each vote. In the absence of the chairman, the vice-chairman votes. Or in the absence of both, a council member votes on behalf of the tribal council.
A Montana-Wyoming Tribal Youth Council is being developed, which will allow an opportunity for each tribe's local youth councils to mirror the tribal leaders council. "It is like a mentor program," Windy Boy said.
The youth will attend meetings and work hand and hand with members of all the subcommittees, they will have the same by-laws as the leaders council and will have chairmen and vice chairmen, he said.
"The tribal leaders council will umbrella the youth council's involvement, and will be also only be as strong as the local councils are individually and as a whole," he said, adding that Belcourt also will be working directly with the youth.
The council will be working with former Congressman Pat Williams and the University of Montana's Center for the Rocky Mountain West to create an institute for training assistance.
"The university has expressed great support for the development of the institute," said Williams, senior fellow for the regional humanities center. "Everyone involved intends for it to become a reality, but it still on the drawing board.
"It'll look like we will hold at least one conference and likely more each year, attended by leaders of the various Montana and Wyoming tribes. Here at the center we will provide the education that the tribal leaders tell us is important to them."
"As we see it the institute will be apart of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West and the tribes will contract for the services," Williams said in an interview Feb. 28.
"This will prepare our newly elected council members, who are new in the arena, and educate them on basic issues, as well as the youth council to be educated on the issues at hand," Windy Boy said.