Tribal Council seeks tribal electorates position on reapportionment

Char-Koosta News 

PABLO — Time changes everything. There have been a lot of changes since the Flathead Nation signed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 that included the adoption of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' Constitution.

One of the organic changes that has been on the radar of the Tribal Council and the tribal electorate/populace for quite some time — at least a generation — is the evolving population growth in the eight voting districts and how the ebb and flow of population affects proportional representation in those districts.

Among the most important tenets in the CSKT Constitution addresses proportional representation in Article 3, Section 3 and Section 4. Section 3 established the eight Tribal Council districts and the number of representatives from each district. Section 4 states the Tribal Council has the power to change the districts and the representation from each of the districts but cannot change the number of Tribal Council representatives, which is cemented at 10.

Since the adoption of the representative governing body, the eight districts representation has remained the same. Meanwhile population growth in the northern part of the Flathead Reservation has grown while the southern portion has not and/or remains stagnant. 

When the 1934 CSKT Constitution was signed the higher population centers were in the Arlee and St. Ignatius areas. 

Through the years, the high population centers have changed for numerous reasons, including the move of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Agency near Dixon to Pablo and the evolution of the Flathead Nation government and administration via the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. 

The results of those changes are visible at the CSKT Headquarters in Pablo and the former Dixon Agency. The results of those changes increased employment opportunities in the northern portion of the reservation. Also, the overall reservation population has grown as a result and so has the electorate.

As a result of tribal population growth and shifts, Tribal Council is seeking guidance via a non-binding poll from the Tribal Electorate on whether or not to change the number of Council representation in the districts of Arlee, St. Ignatius, Ronan and Polson. 

Presently, there are two representatives each in Arlee and St. Ignatius, and one each in Ronan and Polson. 

However, as a result of population growth and shifts, according to the most recent enrollment data there are an estimated 742 eligible tribal member voters in Polson, 920 in Ronan, 601 in Arlee and 638 in St. Ignatius. Consequently, the non-binding straw poll vote would reveal the level of public interest in changing the representative numbers in those four communities. As a result, there potentially could be a change to two representatives each in Polson and Ronan, and one each in Arlee and St. Ignatius. 

The voting choices break down this way: 

• For Reapportionment (Adjust Tribal Council seats to reflect present population distribution).

• Against Reapportionment (Do not make any changes to the number of Tribal Council seats in each district).

The non-binding poll results would guide the Tribal Council decision on whether or not to follow through with the reapportion — they are not bound by the results of the poll but want to gauge the tribal electorate on the issue.

If the poll favors reapportionment and Tribal Council decides to adjust the representation in the four communities it could be in effect as early as the next election in 2021.

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