Referendum change is a risky move

The definition of the word referendum, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “an event in which the people of a county, state, etc., vote for or against a law that deals with a specific issue” … “a public vote on a particular issue.”

We’re sure that for most of us, participating in a referendum vote means making it to the polling place and casting a ballot in the conventional manner.

However, on Friday members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will have the opportunity to take part in a referendum … but a referendum redefined.

Earlier this month, newly-elected Tribal Council President Donald Shalifoe, Sr., announced plans for a new referendum procedure.

The tribe’s constitution states any tribal expenditure of $10,000 or more must be approved by a referendum. But Shalifoe contends the constitution does not specify what that referendum has to look like.

According to Shalifoe, a referendum is now defined as a vote of tribal members who are present at the particular meeting where the decision on an issue is discussed and then voted upon.

It was a bold move on Shalifoe’s part. There are those who give him the benefit of the doubt that his intentions are honorable; to move ahead on important tribal business without the time and expense of voting at the polls.

But not everyone feels that way. There are those, including former tribal council member Fred Dakota, who feel major issues, like the construction of a new casino on the Baraga waterfront, should be left up to the entire community, not just to those who show up at a council meeting.

We’ll admit we are skeptical of Shalifoe’s re-definition, especially coming on the heels of a drastic move that eliminated the position of CEO and transferred that authority to Shalifoe and KBIC Treasurer Eddy Edwards.

The first execution of the new referendum policy comes Friday when two issues, one involving an electronic health records and medical billing system for the tribe’s health center and another concerning a system that records data from each slot machine in the casino and provides feedback for casino management, will be put to a vote.

The meeting/vote will take place at the Helene Welsh Senior’s building in Baraga.

Time will tell if these recent moves are an ambitious power grab, as some have suggested, or a brave step into the future. We will be watching these first few votes closely and urge others to do the same.

While these votes are only open to tribal members in attendance, the results could directly impact the economy of Baraga County and the entire Western Upper Peninsula.