By Brett Larson, December 8, 2014
The Mille Lacs Band’s separation of powers government was put in place in the 1980s to provide checks and balances so that no single person or group has too much authority.
Under separation of powers, each branch — executive, legislative, and judicial — has specific responsibilities.
The Legislative branch makes the laws and allocates revenue, which comes from the Band’s enterprises, federal grants, and other sources.
The Band Assembly is composed of the Speaker (who is also Secretary/Treasurer of the Band) and the three District Representatives. The current Secretary/Treasurer and Speaker of the Assembly is Carolyn Beaulieu, who was elected in 2014.
Carolyn said, “The separation of powers is an important aspect of our government. Without it, one person or group of people would have too much power and no oversight.”
The representatives for Districts I, II, and III, respectively, are Sandra Blake, David (Niib) Aubid, and Harry Davis, Jr.
The Band Assembly allocates money to the Band’s programs, but the Speaker and Representatives don’t have the legal authority to directly distribute funds to Band members. Those responsibilities are part of the Executive Branch.
Band members sometimes call their elected officials after hours and on weekends if they have emergency needs for food, shelter, or gas, but the people whose duty it is to respond to those needs are Kristian Theisz and Coleen Lueck, who are employees of the Health and Human Services Department, which is part of the Executive Branch. (See below for contact information.)
The Executive Branch includes the departments run by Commissioners who are appointed by the Chief Executive and ratified by the Band Assembly. Under the Executive Branch are the Department of Administration, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Community Development Department.
The Solicitor General, who is appointed by the Chief Executive and ratified by the Band Assembly, oversees the Department of Justice, which includes the Tribal Police.
The Commissioner of Corporate Affairs operates the Band’s casinos and other businesses that are part of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. This Commissioner reports to both the Executive and Legislative branches.
Band members in need of services can call the departments that address their specific needs. For example, Band members in need of housing can call Community Development’s Housing Department. Those needing help with health care or nutrition can go to Health and Human Services. A Band member seeking employment resources can go to the Department of Labor, which is part of the Department of Administration. For legal advice or assistance, they can go to Band Member Legal Aid.
The Mille Lacs Band’s tripartite government was developed and put into place during the administration of Chief Executive Art Gahbow in 1981. The new government adapted the Reservation Business Committee created by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution in 1936. The committee Chairman became the Chief Executive and leader of the Executive Branch; the Secretary/Treasurer took on a second title of Speaker of the Band Assembly; and the three committee members became District Representatives. Together, the Speaker and District Representatives became the Legislative Branch.
Tadd Johnson worked as a lawyer for the Band shortly after the separation of powers government was put in place. He pointed out several ways the Band’s government model was ahead of its time.
First, separation of powers allowed for more effective governance. “They recognized that if they allowed the Executive Branch to implement laws that services would be delivered to the people in a more efficient manner because they would have Commissioners and staff specializing in areas,” Tadd said.
Second, the Legislative Branch would be able to focus on representing the needs of the people and express their needs by writing laws and appropriating funds as needed.
Third, a Judicial branch would ensure that justice was provided in a court that reflected the values of the Band. “The court was able to take some ideas from American laws while keeping in mind the underlying concept of compassion, which came from the traditional notions of justice that emanate from the Band,” Tadd said.
Fourth, the tribal leadership of the 1980s had the wisdom to separate out business decision making from political decision-making, Tadd said. “The idea of a Corporate Commission was also ahead of its time 30 years ago.”
“Finally,” Tadd concluded, “the Band in general started looking at itself more as a government. It held the State of the Band Address and wrote its laws in a book of statutes. Now many tribes do an annual address; many are codifying their laws; and many have separate business entities. Mille Lacs was a regional and national leader on many of these ideas.”
The specific duties of the Legislative Branch are spelled out in the Band’s statutes, which are available online at millelacsband.com/tribal-government-home/band-statutesordinances.
Contact information for Band members:
Housing on call
Emergency food, shelter, gas services after hours
Kristian Theisz or Coleen Lueck: 320-630-2687
Emergency Services office
Elder Services office
Food Distribution Program
320-532-7798 or 800-709-6445 (toll-free)
Department of Labor
800-922-4457 or 320-532-7407
Urban Area Office
866-746-4888 or 612-746-4800
Family Violence Prevention Program Advocates
24-hour crisis line at 866-867-4006
Family Violence Prevention Program Administrator
320-532-7793 or 320-630-2499 (cell)
Women’s Shelter Office
Criminal Justice Intervention Coordinator
Domestic Violence Community Advocates
800-709-6445, ext. 4780, 320-630-2691 (cell)
218-768-4412, 320-630-2678 (cell)
320-384-7400, 320-630-2676 (cell)