Separation of Powers Helps Ensure the Survival of Our Sovereign Nation


This article by the late Secretary-Treasurer David Matrious was first published in the Winter 1995 issue of Woodland Voice. It is reprinted here to preserve his teachings and bring them to the next generation.

Self-sufficiency and self-determination are the two most important objectives of any sovereign nation. That’s why the Mille Lacs Band has fought for the right to establish our own form of government. We are well aware that only by governing ourselves will we truly be able to determine our own future.

For many years, we operated under a single-agency form of government known as the Reservation Business Committee. However, we determined that a separation of powers similar to that employed by the United States federal government — which was actually modeled after an American Indian leadership structure — would be a more effective and responsible way to run our reservation. The three branches of our tribal government — legislative, executive, and judicial — ensure through proper checks and balances that no entity of government has absolute or arbitrary power in any area.

The legislative branch of our tribal government, known as Band Assembly, is empowered to enact laws which regulate the internal and external affairs of the Band. Through legislation, the Band Assembly also appropriates money for each tribal government program. The Band’s Secretary-Treasurer also serves as Speaker of the Band Assembly. The overlapping responsibilities of the Secretary-Treasurer/Speaker position allow one individual to oversee both the influx of money into the Band and the dispersal of those funds to each branch of tribal government and its departments. In addition to the Speaker, one Representative from each of the three districts is elected to serve a four-year term in the Band Assembly.

As an independent sovereign nation, the Mille Lacs Band has engaged in government-to-government relationships with federal, state, and local governments. Now, as we rebuild our tribal infrastructure, those relationships are growing more complex. Instead of simply reacting to the actions of others we are now "proacting" — pursuing our own agenda in order to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

From a legislator’s point of view, our workload has increased significantly since the opening of our Band’s casino gaming businesses. Because of the dramatic expansion in our reservation economy, our tribal government is now able to do things that should have been done 50 years ago, such as providing our People with adequate housing, education, and medical care. We are still catching up — and will be for years to come — but in the next 50 years, we hope to become self-sufficient.

The younger generation of Band members now has new opportunities that were not available just a few years ago, but that does not mean we can stop working. In order for our young people to succeed in whatever they choose — including taking over as our tribal leaders someday — they must get an education, have a commitment to their tribal culture, and accept responsibility for realizing the goals they want to achieve. Our government is working to help them accept these responsibilities by rebuilding our reservation, renewing our traditions, and restoring our sovereign nation.