Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

John Collier, Indian Affairs Commissioner, shaped federal Indian policy by moving the Indian Reorganization Act forward in the 1930s.
John Collier, Indian Affairs Commissioner, shaped federal Indian policy by moving the Indian Reorganization Act forward in the 1930s.
December 18, 2017

IN HISTORY: Oglala Sioux Tribe Adopts Indian Reorganization Act Constitution

On December 14, 1935, the Oglala Sioux Tribe narrowly accepted an Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) constitution, followingly various lengthy discussions. The Oglala and Rosebud Sioux Tribes passed IRA constitutions that were similar in content, although their political district boundaries varied.

Passage of the IRA constitutions was strongly encouraged by the Office of Indian Affairs, which had not previously been heavily involved in the creation of or revisions to tribal constitutions.  Previously, the Office of Indian Affairs chose not to insert itself into tribal governance decisions, believing instead that revisions were better made by tribal community members and not outside governmental forces.

The adoption of the IRA constitution was not the first form of constitutional governance approved by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Having a keen knowledge of constitutional governance, the Tribe adopted its first written constitution in 1921.  Drafters the first constitution hoped the new form of governance would encourage political participation among tribal members. When completed, James H. Red Cloud submitted the document to reservation agent Henry Tidwell, who thought Red Cloud and his supporters were “troublesome, unprogressive old men.” Tidwell did not approve the constitution, as its terms fell outside of the philosophy of the Office of Indian Affairs.

A new constitution—which later became known as the Committee of 21—was adopted after Superintendent Jermark noted that the council meetings under the first constitution were called sporadically and believed tribal members to be disillusioned with the document. After the new constitution was written, Indian Affairs Commissioner John Burke revised the governing document to include a provision to allow the reservation superintendent to call special meetings of the tribal council. The constitution was later overwhelmingly rejected by tribal members and council delegates in favor of the first constitution which had been written by the tribe without external involvement.

Efforts are currently underway to reform the Oglala Sioux Tribal constitution. Read more about this process on the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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