Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tribes In The Media: Editorial On Mashantucket Pequot Tribe

In The Tribes In The Media series, we are re-publishing an editorial in today's The Day newspaper covering the ongoing financial and political difficulties of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe:

Tribal Democracy
The Day newspaper
May 24, 2008

Any sovereign democracy is going to face tumultuous times. Such a time is at hand for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe where a large group of members is agitating to have more of a say in their government.

They're upset, and understandably so, because livelihoods are at stake as the tribe tries to rein in its spending, as its lenders have recommended. Reportedly, Wall Street executives have told the Mashantuckets to trim $40 million in government spending. That's a big chunk of money for a relatively small community.

The tribe reports its membership as 800 to 900 people, and says it employs about 900. For comparison's sake, the city of New London, which just passed an $80.7 million budget, has a population of about 26,000 and employs about 800 people. And unlike the tribe, New London must fund a school system. So if the Mashantuckets are cutting $40 million, their per-member spending ratio must be very large, although the tribe does not make its overall budget public.

But now, faced with layoffs to cut the excess, tribal members are looking for more of a voice in their government. They want to be involved in decision-making regarding tribal services, programs and spending.

The Mashantucket dissenters feel shut out by their seven-member tribal council. They say the tribal council prohibits them from speaking at its meetings, provides inadequate noticing of those meetings and does not release council minutes in a timely fashion.

They're particularly troubled because the council has largely gone behind closed doors to discuss who and what to cut.

In the current case, that demand for greater access is being made by many. About 180 of the tribe's approximate 500 adult members signed a petition asking the tribal court to allow them to be part of the budget-setting deliberations. The tribe's constitution requires one-third of the voting membership to force a referendum, and apparently the petitioners easily attained that. So clearly, a sizable number of people are unhappy.

Tribal members elect councilors to represent them, and like any democracy they want accountability.

We urge the tribal council to engage them. Listen to what members have to say and see if they offer any solid solutions or alternatives. The strength of a democracy, after all, is that the supreme power lies in its body of citizens, not a select few.

A Constitution Review Team is already at work on the reservation considering ways to improve the tribe's governing document. Dissenters believe the tribe's meteoric growth - both in size and wealth - has jettisoned it to a point where its operating framework is no longer viable.

Whatever the cause of the discontent, the tribe would likely find itself in a better position if it more closely listened to what its members had to say.