BIA to no longer have approval authority of Cherokee constitution

Tuesday, April 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) _ The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced Monday that it has approved an amendment to the Cherokee Nation constitution that would remove the federal agency from the approval process for further constitutional amendments.

``We have no objection to the referendum as proposed and I am prepared to approve the amendment deleting the requirement for federal approval of future amendments,'' Neal McCaleb, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and BIA director, wrote in a letter to the tribe. McCaleb is Oklahoma's former transportation secretary.

The amendment must still be ratified by tribal members in a special election. If approved, voters could consider the entire constitution during the Cherokee Nation general election in 2003, officials said.

``This is a great moment for the Cherokee Nation,'' Principal Chief Chad Smith said. ``In an age when tribal sovereignty is constantly under attack from all sides, we are proud to reclaim sovereignty over the most basic foundation of our self-governance, our Constitution.''

The amendment would strike Article XV, Section 10 of the tribe's 1976 constitution, which states, ``No amendment or new Constitution shall become effective without the approval of the President of the United States or his authorized representative.''

``It is truly a milestone moment in the preservation of our inherent sovereignty,'' said Jay Hannah, president of the 1999 Constitutional Convention. ``The Cherokee people can now decide whether we wish to be rid of the yoke of the federal government in regards to changes in our own constitution.''

The need for the constitutional revision arose when the tribe and the 1999 Constitutional Convention Commission submitted a new constitution to the BIA for approval in early 1999.

The BIA did not approve the new constitution and said changes needed to be made and ratification procedures should be instituted.

Cherokee officials developed the amendment as a result.