X.  California Tribal Government Administration


Most California Indian tribes have small land bases and small populations, and usually receive few funds for managing tribal government administrative needs.  A large number of California tribal governments are requesting based funding levels in order to provide basic administrative personnel and program management.  While a few California tribal governments have done well under special BIA programs, most have been underserved and suffer from years of underfunding and administrative neglect.  The rapidly changing economic and political situation among California Indian communities has presented new challenges to the old and underfunded tribal administrations.  Most contemporary California tribal government constitutions or bylaws were created when Indian communities exercised little political autonomy and legal jurisdiction, and did not provide a framework for economic development, community development, or protection of political and cultural rights.  Current efforts by California Indians to engage in economic development and gaming and to increase state, federal and BIA funding levels, as well as assert greater administrative and legal control over their reservations and rancherias, require new or modified constitutional, legal and administrative institutions.  Tribal governments must be administratively larger and supported with greater stable funding in order to achieve the economic and social goals of California Indian communities, and to protect their remaining lands and cultural heritages.



IRA and Non-IRA California Constitutional Tribal Governments


From our survey of twenty-nine California Indian communities, twenty-three were from recognized tribes, and eleven have an IRA constitution.  Among our surveyed tribes, most have reworked, or have considered reworking, their constitutions to respond to contemporary conditions.  These conditions—more complex bureaucratic procedures, greater economic development, and accounting needs—were unforeseen at the time of original constitution making, and challenge contemporary tribal government administration.  For example, many tribes with IRA governments updated their constitutions and by-laws to deal with business and land issues that did not exist previously.  Ten tribes disclosed that their original constitutions were reworked at least once after the IRA government was established and recognized by the federal government, and one tribe indicated it had revised its constitution twice.


Since 1991 nine IRA tribes have reworked or revised their tribal constitutions.  At present, 1995, four tribes are in the process of revising their tribal constitutions.  Three tribes revised their constitutions in 1994 alone.  Every decade, since the 1950s, at least one of the tribal community has revised its tribal constitution.  In the early 1990s two tribes reworked their constitutions:  one in 1992, another 1991.  During the 1980s, one constitution was rewritten.  Again in 1976 another tribe modified their constitution.  In 1956 another IRA tribal government document was adjusted by a tribe.


Seven tribes from our survey of twenty-nine California Indian communities are federally recognized non-IRA government tribes.  Two of the seven tribes have tribal constitutions and two have tribal constitutions in development.  A fifth tribe operates with articles of association and ordinances.   The two remaining tribes did not indicate what system of governance they were using.


Within the last thirty-four years, six federally recognized non-IRA governments adopted constitutions and by-laws.  Among our surveyed communities, no non-IRA tribe had documents that predated 1961.  In 1961 the first constitution and by-laws were adopted; afterwards other constitutions were adopted during the years 1976, 1985, and 1989-90.  Two constitutions and sets of by-laws were created within the past four years.  One tribe indicated a constitution and by-laws were not applicable for use in their tribe.


Five IRA tribes utilized a BIA intermediary to draft their tribal constitution and/or by-laws.  Four tribes used their tribal committee in the creation of their constitution and/or by-laws.  Two others utilized the CILS (California Indian Legal Services) in their proposal, and two tribes used a tribal or private attorney to draft their tribal constitutions.


One tribal community created the tribal constitution and/or by-laws themselves, and other tribes currently worked on several drafts through their tribal council.  These tribes indicate great satisfaction with these methods because the tribal community worked together in the formulation of constitutional and by-law changes.  They also indicate they are pleased with these methods, as they prevent intrusion from BIA officials into tribal affairs.


Federally recognized non-IRA California Indian constitutions vary in the arrangement of tribal administration more so than comparable original IRA tribal governments that were instituted by the BIA during the 1930s.  Original IRA tribal governments were created directly by the BIA as part of the IRA policy of reestablishing to Indian self-government.  Most IRA tribal constitutions and governments, however, did not utilize the traditional tribal methods of governance.  The institution of the IRA self-government arrived with inherently built-in difficulties.


Four tribes suggested that they accepted an IRA government during federal reclassification from terminated to recognized tribal status.  Prior to termination, they lacked IRA tribal government status, but the BIA advised each tribe to restore an IRA tribal government.  These tribes were apprehensive that their recognized status might be reversed if they did not accept the IRA governmental system.


From our survey, five terminated tribes were restored to federally recognized status.  Upon restoration, however, all five rejected IRA constitutions suggested by the BIA.


How or why IRA governments were introduced into many California Indian communities is not well known to many California Indians.  One tribal representative stated, “As far as we know, we don’t know how we became an IRA government.”  Seven tribes gave “unknown” as the reason for how and why they had IRA tribal governments.  One tribe remarked they didn’t remember why they became an IRA government, but guessed they must have voted in favor of it because they were one today.  The unknown origin of the implementation of IRA tribal governments by California Indian tribes creates confusion for these tribes as they attempt to understand the organization of their government and relations to federal and state administrations.


The BIA’s role in forming IRA governments is intensely disliked by many tribes.  One tribe stated, “The IRA cultural model of tribal government/constitution system is culturally alien to our local culture and community; but it was the only means to gain our sovereignty.”  The application of a culturally alien governance system results in unfamiliar political processes for California Indian tribes and continually undermines tribal  sovereignty and self-determination.  Many, but not all, California Indian communities recognize elders, kinship and family, and spiritual leaders as part of the community and political decision-making process.  In general, IRA governments and by-laws do not recognize the major social and political patterns of California Indian communities, and therefore create difficulties in political procedure and decision making.  Newly revised constitutions and tribal governments need to reflect the social, cultural, and political patterns of California Indian communities.



Although the IRA system of tribal government is not an inherently Indian form of government, it has been accepted by eleven tribes from our survey of twenty-nine California Indian communities.  Seven tribes decided not to adopt the IRA government but to rely on other solutions for tribal administration.


Many California Indian tribes realize the IRA form of tribal government has not helped solve their tribal issues and problems.  Many tribes have revised their constitutional provisions to adapt to contemporary circumstances, which were not apparent nor had arisen at the time the original constitution was implemented.  Therefore, many tribes are ill equipped to manage the issues that face them today.  As tribes confront change in world conditions, they realize, their form of tribal administration must adapt and be reworked to maintain their self-determination.


Many tribes realize they need community support and assistance from individuals outside the tribe, such as lawyers and the BIA, to determine the direction of their tribal future.  Caution should be taken to prevent over-involvement by outside parties in final determination of California Indian constitutions and ordinances. 


Along with the need for technical assistance, more money is needed to assist in revising outdated tribal constitutions.  Significant funding has not been forthcoming from the federal government.  If money were released to tribes, they could make their tribal governments more effective.


It is essential that California Indian tribes revise IRA tribal constitutions into forms that enable greater preservation of tribal sovereignty and cultural community. Tribes need to have government institutions consistent with their perspectives, goals, and values.





For many California Indian tribes there is little support and/or their over-involvement by the BIA in tribal membership enrollment processes.  California Indian tribal governments maintain records of enrollment as an inherent right of their tribal sovereignty.  The enrollment process determines who is a member of a specific tribe and allows tribes to use their membership rolls to obtain the rights of tribal membership.  Only a few California tribes do not maintain enrollment records.  Their inability to maintain and determine tribal membership can be attributed to lack of federal funds.  If adequate funds were provided from the federal government, these tribes would maintain tribal enrollment records.


California Indian tribes say that more federal funds are needed for the upkeep and maintenance of their enrollment records.  One tribe indicated that no funds existed to assist them to maintain their enrollment procedures.  Yet somehow they found the personnel to support their tribal enrollment record-keeping.  Other tribes realized that federal government funds are not consistently available for tribal enrollment assistance.  Some tribes have turned to multi-year grants in order to maintain their tribal enrollment record system.  A concern by some tribes is that BIA money is not a reliable funding resource.  Grant money must be continually applied for every few years.  These grants also carry the possibility of non-renewal each time the grant terminates.


More staff is needed by most California Indian tribes to keep tribal enrollment records.  One tribe, on its own initiative, brought in elders to review enrollee applicants at the time of open tribal enrollment.  The elders were paid a stipend for their services, but the stipend was small.  This tribe felt strongly that the BIA needed to assist them with the certification of their tribal members, since new enrollees become eligible for federal benefits.  The tribe perceived that they were doing the federal government’s job by identifying eligible recipients for federal services.  Furthermore their elders were not being compensated for work beyond tribal obligation.  Nevertheless, this tribe also insisted that only tribal members should/could certify tribal memberships, and such certification should not be left to the BIA.


Most California Indian tribes are left to their own resources to provide staff for tribal enrollment.  Tribal government funds are used to aid in the employment of part-time enrollment clerks.  Many tribes indicate that they could use a full-time person to fulfill their enrollment services; part-time help is not enough to keep good records.


Whenever the BIA supervises tribal membership certification,  Bureau staff often overstep their powers.  Two problems continually reoccur with BIA-managed tribal enrollment.  First, tribes indicate that their roll-books must be certified by the Bureau, a situation that allows the Bureau an excess amount of supervision, which is cause for grave concern to tribes because the sovereign right to determine tribal membership is undermined.  Secondly, the BIA is excessively involved in the denial of tribal membership to out-of -state applicants.  California tribes respond that they are willing to enroll out-of-state individuals as members, but are blocked by the BIA.  This situation challenges their sovereign right to determine tribal membership.  Their right to decide the qualifications of applicants to their tribe is effectively impaired by the BIA’s over-involvement in the enrollment process.


One tribe insisted that the BIA kept a separate roll for enrollees, different from the tribal rolls.  Different enrollment numbers for tribal members were created, causing problems for members.  The confusion created by the BIA in maintaining a separate enrollment generated fear that services would be denied to tribal members.




California Indian tribes struggle to keep their enrollment procedures and processes up-to-date and accurate.  The tribes in our survey state that they will continue their enrollment progress at this level, but would benefit greatly if more federal funds were granted to assist with the process.  Most tribes need more assistance in the future to continue their enrollment operations with accuracy and precision.


California Indian tribes have few financial resources available to resolve their tribal enrollment disputes.  Funds are not available to the tribes through the BIA for the support of mediation services.  Federal grants are used as the most convenient method to offset the cost of enrollment appeal cases.  Occasionally some tribes use tribal business income to pay for tribal enrollment procedures.  This method is the exception, since most tribes do not have enough business income to effectively support tribal enrollment needs.  Only one tribe in our survey received direct funding from the federal government—$40,000 from the BIA—to assist in the enrollment process.  California Indian tribes need funds, staff, and technical assistance to initiate and keep tribal enrollment records on site.


Tribal Government Financial Administration


Most of our surveyed tribal governments have procedures for hiring personnel and for maintaining checks and balances for the disbursement of tribal funds.  Effective administrative support and financial management are necessary in order to receive and disburse federal, state and private funds.  All of our surveyed tribal governments attempt to provide the minimal administrative and financial organization required to carry out federal and state financial and administrative requirements.  Overall, most California tribal governments are capable of carrying out such financial and administrative requirements.


Tribal administrators usually are hired by a personnel committee appointed by the tribal council.  The committee seeks to employ the best qualified applicant for a tribal administrative position.  Applicants first must meet job description requirements before being selected for an interview.  Criteria used to select tribal managers are similar to those implemented by other employers.  Experience is considered first along with any equivalent job experience, such as previous tribal and/or administrative experience.  Secondly, a college degree in a related field is advantageous.  A preference for Indian applicants is the third consideration, along with personal sensitivity to Indian issues.  Individual experience in tribal administrative is a favored employment characteristic.  Experience in grant writing or management is extremely helpful and perceived as a highly valued commodity.  At present some tribes are grooming tribal members for positions as future tribal administrators with specific administrative study programs.  Final recommendations, based on an individual’s experience and personal interview, are made to the tribal council before a final selection is approved for a tribal administrative position.


In order for tribes to retain control and exclude interference from state and federal authorities, California Indian tribal administrators strictly implement safeguards to prevent misappropriation of tribal resources.  Most California Indian tribes have accountant(s) or an accounting department responsible for the financial documentation of tribal administrative records.  A few tribes do not presently use an administrative accounting system for tribal financial purposes.  This condition occurs because of a deficiency of agency-issued funds from federal government sources.  Funds for administrative service and support are not disbursed to tribes with small populations.  As a consequence, small tribes are disadvantaged in securing administrative service and support for their people and tribal interests.


Many California Indian tribal accounting systems, however, are well maintained and supportive of the tribal community interests.  Many California tribes have one tribal accountant, occasionally two, and a support staff for basic financial administration.  Currently few problems have occurred, tribes accounting systems. 


New computer technology and software are used in most tribal accounting systems and are effective fiscal tools for tribes.  Currently almost every California tribe has gone on-line in their accounting system.  However, some tribes presently do not use a computerized fiscal system, but instead rely on the traditional ledger and register system to inventory tribal financial accounts.  An accountant or fiscal policy officer for the tribe, despite the lack of a computer system, is considered an essential element beneficial to the tribal administration.  Some tribes hope to receive an ANA grant to begin to arrange an operational accounting system.  The funds from this grant would provide a tribe with a fiscal officer or accountant.


Administrative fiscal systems of California Indian tribes are preserved by checks and balances designed to prevent misappropriation of tribal funds.  Outside audits from independent accounting agencies are an essential element to safeguard the accounting system of many California Indian tribal governments.  Tribes have annual audits, a mandatory requirement to obtain money from funding sources.  Some problems that could occur with financial administration are averted by a schedule of regular audits.


Another precaution against misappropriation is the requirement of dual signatures on all tribal checks and accounts.  The primary check signers are tribal council members, not staff.  The tribal council designates which members will hold signatory check power.  Tribal checks also are inspected monthly on the tribal bank statement register.  Designated council members are held directly accountable by the tribe to sign checks properly.  In order to safeguard signatory power over tribal money, most tribes empower two or more tribal council members to act as co-signers.  Thereafter, tribal manager reviews all payments.  The co-signers’ requirement to sign tribal checks protects tribal funds from misappropriation.  According to our surveyed communities, one reason California Indian tribes are motivated to use strict security measures is to reduce intervention by federal or state government agencies in tribal administration and finances.  Secure financial procedures help maintain tribal self-determination.


All expenses for tribal programs, including the salaries of tribal chairpersons, are are reviewed by the tribal program managers.  Purchase orders are required and purchase amounts are regulated.  Challenges to the budget must be cleared by the council, the project director, and the agency, in writing, before changes are made in the account system.  Our surveyed tribal communities report that personal honesty and integrity are generally upheld by all persons involved in business and financial transactions on behalf of the tribe.


Most California Indian tribes are satisfied with the current state of accounting procedures and assurances in tribal management of funds.  Only a few tribes are dissatisfied with current tribal funds management.  This dissatisfaction is caused by a lack of sufficient knowledge about the tribal financial system.  Other tribes indicated they would change their administrative financial system if there was a possibility to improve on the system.  Our surveyed tribal governments report that accounting systems set up by the California Indian tribes work in conjunction with the BIA, federal, state, and other government agencies, with only minor administrative problems.



Tribes protect their financial administrative systems with strict safeguards, such as regularly scheduled audits and dual signatory power by tribal council members.  Some tribes do not receive enough funds to support their tribal financial systems.  Administrative interference by the federal government directly affects the sovereignty of many small tribes.  Larger tribes are more effective at averting BIA administrative and financial intrusion.  The small tribes do not use computers for accounting and administrative purposes because of a lack of funding.  Low funding prevents smaller tribes from effective financial management and administration, which inhibits seeking of more funding and federal grants, protection of tribal interests, and achievement community goals.