Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Constitution?

A constitution is a written document outlining a set of fundamental principles or established precedents agreed upon by a majority of the members to which a state, nation, or other organization is governed. The rules together makeup (constitute) what the entity is and what principles they will abide by; the procedures in which laws are made and by whom. Constitutions concern different levels of organizations, from sovereign states to companies and unincorporated associations. Some constitutions also act as limiters of power by establishing lines in which rulers cannot cross, such as fundamental rights. It is a system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribe the nature, functions, and limits of a government - the foundation for most governernments in societies around the world. 

How does the Constitution impact me?

Constitutional reform has been an important issue for all members since the 1980s.  The MCT constitution does not provide governmental checks and balances which becomes very apparent when we are in a crisis. The original constitution was proposed by BIA staff member in 1934 with the goal of making communication, management and control easier for the BIA. As a result, the current Constitution has at least 17 sections where BIA approval is required before actions of the tribe are valid.  More importantly, the current MCT constitution does not provide for a good government structure, a base for cultural, economic, or democratic well being of citizens and it does not serve our members with the checks and balances we need.

What is Zaagibagaang?

Zaagibagaang is a grassroots effort focused on governance and nation building. With our Anishinaabe teachings guiding us, we bring our gifts together to provide information and work towards mino-bimaadiziwin today as well as for the next seven generations.

What does Zaagibagaang mean?

Zaagibagaang is an Anishinabemowin term meaning: The buds bursting forth. It symbolizes our commitment to the growing the knowledge of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution for our people.

How did this group start?

See the Zaagibagaang ABOUT page 

How are you funded?  

We applied for a grant from the Bush Foundation.  The first grant was a planning grant to create the strategic plan and then another grant application was submitted to create the materials.  

How can I be involved?  

Contact us on the CONTACT page found under ABOUT.

What are the Seven Teachings?

There are several versions of these teachings but all have the same core elements. It is up to each person to apply these teachings to their life. The following are from the Mille Lacs Band:

  1. Gwekwaadiziwin (Honesty) - To achieve honesty within yourself is to recognize who and what you are.  Do this and you can be honest with all others.

  2. Dbaadendiziwin (Humility) - Humble yourself and recognize that no matter how much you think you know, you know very little.

  3. Debwewin (Truth) - To learn Truth, to live Truth, to walk Truth, and to speak Truth.

  4. Nbwaakaawin (Wisdom) - To have Wisdom is to know the difference between good and bad and to know the result of your actions.

  5. Zaagidiwin (Love/Compassion) - Unconditional love and compassion is to know that when people are weak, they need your love and compassion the most.

  6. Mnaadendimowin (Respect) - Respect others, their beliefs.  Respect yourself.  When you practice respect, respect will be given back to you.

  7. Aakwade’ewin (Bravery/Courage) - Have bravery and courage in doing things right even though it may hurt you physically and mentally.

Who made the videos?  

After an RFP, Zaagibagaang selected Hunt+Capture to create the videos.  Hunt+Capture traveled throughout MN to take pictures, interview, and record many different people.

When is the next election?  

The TEC must approve an Election Calendar.  We have not yet seen the calendar for the upcoming 2020 Election, but according to the 2017 Election Ordinance the second Tuesday in June is usually scheduled for the General Election and if there are more than two candidates certified to run for office, a Primary Election would be held the tenth Tuesday prior to the General Election.  The TEC will make the official Election Announcement, check the MCT website for up-to-date information. 

What positions will be up for election?

Each of the six Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Reservations are scheduled to vote on two of the five elected positions in the 2020 election cycle.  See the MCT website containing the Election Ordinance for exact details. 

Where can I find the MCT Constitution?

The MCT Constitution along with the Interpretations adopted by the TEC are available on our website.

How can I find out more about the MCT Constitution?

Talk to your family and ask them "how is this working for you?", call your officials and ask them the same question. Contact us for more information or suggestions.

Do all the MCT reservations have their elections at the same time?

Yes, all six of the MCT reservations follow what is set forth in MCT Election Ordinance.

Do I have to register to vote?  

If you are an enrolled in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, you are automatically registered to vote on your reservation of enrollment in regular elections held by the MCT.

How does absentee voting work?

In accordance with the Constitution (Article IV, b.) Absentee voting is allowed in the Election Ordinance Section 1.6(c) which allows for the process for an eligible voter to vote by notifying the Election Board. A request must be submitted to receive a ballot before the election day.  

What district do I vote in?

If you live on the Reservation the district is determined by where you live, each reservation determines their district boundaries (if any). If you do not live on the reservation then you must declare a district with the election board. There are restriction for changing districts, governed by the Election Ordinance.

Who is eligible to vote?

To vote for a particular election, you must be 18 years old and an enrolled member of that Band, and be able to show proof of your enrollment status.

How can I be sure I am making an informed decision?

Ask questions.  Research the candidates.  Participate in things that are going on within your reservation so you have an understanding of the important issues. Attend meetings, stay involved in your community.

Where I can find the current election ordinance?

It is the responsibility of the TEC to post the Election Ordinance prior to each election. The latest version can be found on the MCT website.

Why should I vote?

Voting is the most fundamental way to participate in your tribal government.  Electing leaders determines our future.  It is our responsibility as a member to elect leaders. Some reservations experience only a 10% voter turnout.

Who is the TEC? What authorities do they have?

There are 12 members on the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC). The Chair and Secretary/Treasurer elected from each of the 6 reservations make up the TEC.  Their authorities, responsibilities, and powers are outlined in the Revised Constitution and Bylaws.  They select a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and a Treasurer from among themselves.

Who is the MCT?

The MCT is the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, established by the MCT Constitution in 1936.

We, the, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, consisting of the Chippewa Indians of the White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Bois Forte (Nett Lake), and Grand Portage Reservations and the Non Removable Mille Lac Band of Chippewa Indians, in order to form a representative Chippewa tribal organization, maintain and establish justice for our Tribe, and to conserve and develop our tribal resources and common property; to promote the general welfare of ourselves and descendants, do establish and adopt this constitution for the Chippewa Indians, of Minnesota in accordance with such privilege granted the Indians by the United States under existing law

What is the RTC/RBC/RTG?

In the MCT Constitution our reservation governments are referred to as Reservation Business Committee (RBC), over time individual reservations have adopted different names such as the Reservation Tribal Council (RTC), Reservation Tribal Government (RTG), or Band Assembly which is used by Mille Lacs.  

What is a Tribe? A Band? A Nation?

Legally, none of these terms have a single, universal definition. The terms are often confusing because there can be slightly different meanings in different contexts; however, generally these are all terms used for a political entity. Many people typically think of Anishinaabe as a tribe in the ethnological/cultural sense but within that group there are many distinct political entities also called tribes, bands, and/or nations. There have many changes in political entities over time, the Indian Reorganization Act specifically defines a Tribe as "any Indian tribe, organized band, pueblo, or the Indians residing on one reservation." Historically, the terms tribe and band were very common; today we see the terms intermingled with a number of political entities now using  the term "nation".

Briefly, what historical facts led to the six sovereign Bands forming MCT under one IRA constitution?

Primarily, it was related to the Nelson Act of 1889 and the federal government’s allotment policy. A number of reservations were created via treaties in the mid-1800s. Anishinaabeg continued to have some mobility often moving from one reservation to another. The US wanted more land and decided to consolidate all Anishinaabeg in Minnesota at White Earth under the Nelson Act. The act was contradictory and confusing and ultimately didn’t work. In 1934 the US passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), initially, BIA employees in Washington expected each reservation to organize independently under the IRA. However, a local MN BIA employee worked to convince leaders from all the reservations to organize together in a new political body called the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT). It worked. The MCT Constitution was created, passed via a referendum, and approved by the secretary of interior in 1936.  

What is sovereignty?

Sovereignty is a western concept that is the power of a distinct political unit to be self-governing.  A key aspect of sovereignty is for a nation to exercise self-governance without extensive outside interference. In the MCT Constitution we have numerous allowances for the US Secretary of the Interior to approve specific aspects, such as approving a change to our Constitution even after we vote on it.

What is a treaty?

A formal agreement between two or more sovereign nations that creates legal rights and duties. A treaty is not only a law but also a contract between two or more nations. (Wilkins and Stark, 2011)

How do Treaties impact us today?

Treaties recognize Indians tribes as sovereign nations that exercise exclusive authority over people and activities within their territories. They are as valid today as on the day they were signed and ratified. Treaties are living documents, “the supreme law of the land.” … See more at

What is the IRA?

IRA is the Indian Reorganization Act, a law passed by the Federal Government in 1934, it is also called the Wheeler-Howard Act and was a part of the “Indian New Deal.” Tribes could accept or reject the IRA but the voting process was deeply flawed. The IRA ended the devastating allotment policy, provided some resources for tribes to purchase lands to rebuild their land bases, and provided an opportunity for tribes to reorganize their governments and adopt constitutions. The BIA played a central role in the writing of the new constitutions, which often had a economic focus and lacked a separation of powers and any of our cultural values and traditions.  Several tribes (most notably Navajo), rejected IRA Constitutions, and today, about 60% of the 566 federally recognized tribes have adopted IRA Constitutions.

Can I vote on the reservation where I live if I’m enrolled on another Reservation?

Some Reservation have polling places located on the Reservation and satellite offices, you must vote only in the election for the Reservation in which you are enrolled.

What is blood quantum?

Blood quantum is a western concept that has been used in wide variety of ways and became the centerpiece in a number of federal assimilation policies. It is the pseudo-scientific administrative measure of ancestry or racial inheritance. After the IRA, the BIA strongly encouraged tribes to adopt blood quantum rules for enrollment. After much pressure from the BIA, the MCT adopted a one quarter minimum of MCT blood for enrollment requirement in 1961. It was passed by a referendum in 1963 and approved by the Secretary of Interior in 1964. Today, blood quantum is calculated by taking adding one-half of the mother's MCT blood quantum and one-half of the father’s MCT blood quantum.  MCT Constitution requires us to use only MCT blood when calculating, so other blood is not taken into consideration.  

What is Native Nation Building

The Native Nations Institute’s (NNI) understanding of Indigenous nation building emerged from 30 years of research by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and the NNI. Research sought to understand the conditions under which sustained development can be successful in Indigenous nations. The results indicate that five elements are particularly important:

  • Sovereignty. Native nations that have been willing and able to assert self-governing power have significantly increased their chances of sustainable economic development.

  • Capable governing institutions. The chances of sustainable development rise as Indigenous nations put in place effective, non-politicized dispute-resolution mechanisms and build capable bureaucracies.

  • Cultural match. Institutions that build and innovate upon Indigenous conceptions of authority fare better than those whose form departs from such conceptions.

  • A strategic orientation. Successful Native nations tend to approach development not as a quick fix for poverty but as a means of building a society that works.

  • Leadership. In successful Indian nations, there is typically a group of individuals who recognize the need for fundamental change in the way things are done and can bring the community along with them in building that future. (

What is a referendum?

Allowing all eligible voters of a political entity (tribe, state, nation) to either decide or give an advisory vote on a law, a constitutional change, or other item of significance.

What is a separation of powers?

Separation of powers is often used interchangeably with "checks and balances".  It is a model for governance where the power is divided into branches, in the US Federal system we use the Legislative Branch that creates laws, the Executive Branch that executes laws and the Judicial branch that settles differences on laws.  The model is designed so the branches of government are separate with responsibilities divided to limit any one branch from having the authority of the other branch.  This model of governance prevents power from being centralized with any branch and provides for checks and balances.

What does it mean to be a Federally recognized Tribe?

Indian tribes recognized by the federal government as self-governing entities with whom the United States maintains a government-to-government political relationship. This relationship may be established by treaty or agreement, congressional legislation, executive order action, judicial ruling, or the secretary of interior’s decision. Recognized tribes are eligible for special services and benefits designated solely for such tribes (e.g. BIA programs, Indian Health Services), but they also benefit by and are subject to the federal government’s trust doctrine and plenary power. (Wilkins and Stark, 2011)

How do I contact elected officials?

See our page "The Six Reservations" for links to each one.

Where are the polling places?

Each Reservation determines their own polling sites.  As we get closer to the 2020 Election, more information will be posted.