A Dangerous Weapon

The Isleta Tribal Council declared that every scrap of paper that our Pueblo generates is “confidential information.” This includes laws, policies, procedures and any other document that any tribal official or employee creates.

Here are the Council’s definitions:

“ . . . [C]onfidential information shall mean all technical and non-technical information . . . including but not limited to trade secrets, proprietary information notes, marketing plans, financial data, analyses, compilations, studies, reports, memoranda or other documents, and includes information that is not in written form.”1

“Confidential information means information which is law or practice is not available to the public at large.”2

Those definitions are in the Pueblo of Isleta Ethics Code.

This means that a tribal official who gives you any type of document or discusses information with you, without Council approval, could be in violation of the Ethics Code. The official could then suffer penalties such as a fine, suspension from office or a variety of other consequences.

So, to get a copy of a law or policy, you need to beg the Council to release it to you. You need to fill out a form and explain to the Council why you want a copy of a particular law or any other document. Thereafter, in ten (10) days, if you’re in the good graces of the Council, they might authorize the release of the document to you.

But, you must be careful. If the Council discovers that you used the document in a manner that you did not disclose, you could face a penalty from the Council. What’s the penalty?  I don’t know.  It’s a secret.  It could be anything. Ask a Council member; ask the Governors; ask a Tribal Judge or the Tribal Prosecutor. Maybe, if they like you, they’ll tell you. Click this link: Council Form – and, you can review the Council’s form.

The Council declared, in their “Ethics Code,” that the People of Isleta “are entitled to have complete confidence in the loyalty and integrity of their government.”3 They also said that the purpose of the Ethics Code is to “require accountability”4 of elected and appointed officials.

But, how do we hold them “accountable” when every scrap of paper is “confidential information?” How can we hold them “accountable” when we have to beg them to release copies of laws, policies and procedures?

I understand that our Tribe should keep certain types of information confidential. But, every shred of paper? Laws, we are obligated to obey, should be confidential?  Read the Council’s definition; it’s so broad and general that it literally means every scrap of paper that our government generates is “confidential information.”

The Council’s policy on “confidential information” is pitiful. It’s pitiful when you go to court and our judges and justices do not know what laws the Council has enacted. It’s pitiful that the Council forces us to beg them for copies of laws, policies and procedures. Yet, our government demands that we obey those same laws, policies and procedures. How does that make sense? How does that give the “People of Isleta” accountability?

The Isleta Tribal Council adopted the Ethics Code on November 30, 2010.  Thirty days later, on December 30, 2010, the Council amended their Code.  On July 19, 2012, the Council amended their Ethics Code once again. And still — it’s a half-assed document.

Some Council members may tell you that the purpose of the Ethics Code is to “require accountability.”  It’s not. Their Ethics Code is just a weapon, a political weapon, a dangerous weapon.  Council members use the Ethics Code to attack one another when they are fighting for political power. Their Code is not to give us accountability.

Think about it. The Council has never published their “Ethics Code” in the Tribal Newsletter. The Council has never told the community that the “Ethics Code” is available for tribal members to pick up from anywhere. Nor, have they made it available to us over the internet.  Why not?

If the Council wants us to have “complete confidence” in the integrity of our tribal officials, then they should have mailed a copy of their “Ethics Code” to everyone on the reservation. Or, they should have placed their Code in a public location to allow us to have free access to it. But, they didn’t. Their Code isn’t easily available because the Council doesn’t want you to have it.

Do you want “accountability” from Council members, Judges, Justices or any other tribal official?  Well then, dig into your pocket, take out $25, pay it to the Treasurer and file your complaint.  That’s right; the Council charges a “non-refundable fee of $25”5 to get “accountability.” You don’t have $25? Then tough luck, too bad, you get no accountability.

Also, if you discover that a tribal official violated the Ethics Code, but the violation occurred more than 60 days ago, then it’s too late for you to file a complaint against that official.6  This means that the official gets off the hook and you get no accountability. That’s correct; a tribal official can avoid accountability by keeping their violation hidden for 61 days. That shouldn’t be difficult, considering the Council’s definition of “confidential information.” So, you better discover the violation of the Code as soon as you can or you’ll forfeit your right to accountability.

The Ethics Code evolved from the Council’s actions in suspending one another from the Council. Majority factions on the Council needed a way to silence minority viewpoints on the Council. So, majority factions started making motions to suspend fellow Council members.  They would use any flimsy excuse to suspend someone. And, as long as they had a majority faction, they would succeed in silencing their opposition.

Eventually, the Council created their Ethics Code and an Ethics Board to enforce their Code. Under the Code, the Board is empowered to suspend a tribal official for up to 90 days for each violation of the Ethics Code.7 The provision authorizing the Board to suspend a tribal official is dangerous to our Tribe. Indeed, it violates the Isleta Tribal Constitution.

The Constitution states, “[t]he term of office of all members of the Council shall be two (2) years, coinciding with the term of governor and other elected officers of the pueblo.”8 So, once we elect a person into office, that person has a Constitutional Right to serve in office for two (2) years. Why? Because the voters put that person into office.

You won’t find any provision in our Constitution that empowers the Council to suspend the Governors or a council member. Instead, our Constitution sets a procedure for the removal and recall of elected or appointed officials under Article VII. The Constitution has several steps for removing an official from office. The most significant step is the requirement for the Council to conduct a special election for the recall of an official. This means that the Council must obtain approval from the voters before removing an official from office.

To avoid the obligation of conducting a recall election, past Councils created the power of suspension.  They didn’t want to seek approval from voters because they were afraid that we would discover that the Council itself was up to no good.

So, if suspensions are a violation of the Constitution, how does the Council get away it? Is it the ignorance of Council? Is it the ignorance of the Courts?  Is it political corruption?  Yes, it’s all of those things.

But, mostly, it’s due to our apathy. It’s due to our indifference.  We, the People of Isleta, just don’t care enough.  We’re allowing the Council and Governors to do whatever they want because we just don’t give a damn.

Yes, some of us are also happy to see a tribal official get suspended.  We’re happy because we don’t like a particular official.  We’re happy because that official is someone we disagree with. In fact, we may have damn good reasons to dislike or disagree with a particular official.

But —- whenever the Council or the Ethics Board suspends a tribal official, especially a person elected by the people, it is absolutely dangerous and damaging to our Tribe. Why? Because the Council is silencing the voices of all the people that voted for that particular official.

Now, you may be happy when they silence officials that you disagree with or dislike.  But, what happens when they silence the person that you do like? What happens when they silence your voice?  What happens when the Council stuffs a rag down your throat to shut you up? Will you like it then?

When the Council or the Ethics Board suspends a council member or an executive official, they are violating our Constitution. Our Constitution is the only document approved by the People of Isleta. It’s the only document that protects you and your family from tribal officials that abuse their power.

Does our Tribe need an Ethics Code? Perhaps. Does it need the current Ethics Code? Absolutely not. The Council needs to repeal the current Ethics Code. It belongs —- in a garbage can.


By Christopher Abeita

  1. Sec. 2(C), Isleta Tribal Council Resolution # 2012-055. (Hereinafter, ITCR # 2012-055.)
  2. Sec. 8(5), ITCR # 2012-055.
  3. Sec. 1(A), ITCR # 2012-055.
  4. Id.
  5. Sec. 4(A)(1), ITCR # 2012-055.
  6. Sec. 4(A)(5), ITCR # 2012-055.
  7. Sec. 5(A)(b), ITCR # 2012-055.
  8. Isleta Const. Art. V, § 3.

What are your thoughts?