White Earth tribal chair Vizenor explains why she resigned

Erma Vizenor
Erma Vizenor
Tom Robertson | MPR News 2013

The White Earth Tribal Council voted 3-0 to accept Chair Erma Vizenor's resignation.

The move came two days before a special White Earth Tribal Council hearing scheduled for Jan. 22 that would have decided Vizenor's future with the tribe.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe removed Vizenor from its board last month in a power struggle over constitutional reform. The MCT governs six Minnesota bands — including White Earth — and is led by a board made up of tribal chairs and secretary-treasurers from each band.

"I wanted to resign on my own terms."

Vizenor maintained her seat as tribal chair, but removal from the MCT board left her job in the hands of the White Earth Tribal Council.

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In an interview shortly after her removal from the MCT board, Vizenor said she planned to fight for her office, but as the special White Earth hearing neared, she changed her mind.

"It was inevitable," she said. "The board was going to vote me out. I wanted to resign on my own terms."

Vizenor spent much of her time in office pursuing constitutional reform. In 2013, she and the tribal council drafted a new constitution for White Earth that would have drastically shifted the government structure and changed requirements for tribal membership.

The new constitution was approved in a referendum vote but implementation stalled two years ago when three new members were elected to the tribal council. Those new members opposed Vizenor's efforts. Their struggle sparked Vizenor's exit from government.

Vizenor was appointed secretary-treasurer of the White Earth Reservation in 1996 and then elected to the position in 1997, and served until 2002. She was elected chair in 2004. She said her resignation does not mark the end of her political life.

In two years she plans to run for secretary-treasurer. Until then, she said she will be write a book about the complex workings of tribal government.

"I was an honorable chairwoman," she said. "I never stole. I never embezzled, but what are you going to do?"

Vizenor's resignation clears a path for Winona LaDuke, executive director of Native American environmental group Honor the Earth, who said she'd run for White Earth chair.