A Return to Tradition: Proportional Representation in Tribal Government

Aug 15th, 1994 | By | Category: 6-2: Spirituality, Media Reviews

Published in American Indian Culture and Research Journal
Volume 18, Number 1 (1994), pp. 147-163

Review by Paul Boyer

Keeping Politics All In the Family

Those who advocate a return to traditional government on Indian reservations are, in most cases, really looking to create entirely new political systems. While the governments would he built on a foundation of traditional values, they would also have to acknowledge the modern  needs of native American society.

Delmer Lonowski, an assistant professor of political science at South Dakota State University, Brookings, offers one possible model for a hybrid government among the Sioux tribes. While it does not duplicate traditional government, it does attempt to capture its spirit by turning tiyospayes (extended families) into political parties. It also would ensure full representation for tribal members by introducing proportional representation and returning to consensus decision-making.

Tiyospayes were traditionally both social and political institutions. However, Lonowski notes that “under modern Sioux tribal government, the tiyospaye has become politically nonfunctional, because modern Sioux tribal government instead relied on the representation of communities and districts or on reservation-wide elections.”

The author proposes that the tiyospaye’s political role be reestablished by treating them as political parties, a role to which he believes they can comfortably adapt. In traditional society, the tiyospaye was largely a family grouping, but membership was voluntary and dissatisfied members were free to join another tiyospaye or form a new tiyospaye. Leaders from each tiyospaye were also members of the tribal council. In this way, they mirror modern political parties which are also voluntary associations with designated leaders.

Lonowski also proposes that proportional representation and consensus decision making be introduced, allowing even small factions to have a voice on tribal councils. Under this system, all parties receiving a minimum number of votes would gain a place in tribal government and all decisions would require unanimous agreement. As a result, minority factions that now feel disenfranchised would be guaranteed a strong voice.

Lonowski acknowledges that consensus-building takes time and success is never guaranteed. However, he argues that it was used in traditional Sioux society and was required within the European Community until 1986. He does propose that on less important issues, simple majority or three-fourths majority could be sufficient.

The American Indian Culture and Research Journal is available through the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. Address: 3220 Campbell Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1548. Subscriptions are $20 for individuals, $5 for single issues.

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