The Opinion of a Native American Attorney “Proposed New Tribal Constitution Brings Bad News for the Catawba People and their Future”

Cynthia A. Walsh, M.A., J.D.,


1.  On Friday, May 18, 2001 the proposed new constitution will be voted upon by the Catawba tribal members. By the process established by Chief Gilbert Blue the proposed new constitution is to be voted for passage or rejection in its entirety. Prior to writing this document, however, another version of the new constitution was developed by a working group of Catawba tribal members known as the Constitutional Committee. This version was rejected by the Executive Committee, after which they drafted and put forth their own version of the constitution as the final draft of the proposed new constitution of the Catawba Nation. It is this version of the constitution which will be voted upon by the Catawba tribal members.

2.  A document of this type needs to be carefully reviewed with the expectation that it will remain the permanent document of usage. Certainly, it is possible to amend a constitution and to correct issues as they arise in the future but it is unwise to accept such a document with the expectation that once passed it will almost immediately be amended to correct issues of concern.

3.  Having carefully reviewed the proposed new constitution submitted to the Catawba people by Chief Gilbert Blue, it is my professional opinion that this proposed constitution contains not only numerous typographical errors but more importantly significant areas of legal concern. Any one of these legal concerns by themselves would be significant enough to compel a “No” vote on this proposed constitution.

Summary of the problems which will be discussed in greater detail:


I.  The membership section is in conflict with controlling federal law.

II.  The powers given to the Executive Committee will result in the Executive Committee being the controlling governmental body of the Catawba Nation resulting in the General Council being nothing more than a token arm of the government.

III.  Blanket approval is granted for all past agreements of the Catawba Nation entered by persons representing themselves as Catawba government leaders or other authorized officials without providing to the Catawba General Council nor the general membership any record of when these agreements were entered, nor the financial status of the Catawba Nation, nor what current and future obligations may encumber the Catawba Nation as the result of such agreements.

What options are available if the Catawba people reject the proposed new constitution?

Having elections is not dependant upon having a new constitution! The language of the current Catawba constitution does empower the people to control the destiny of the Catawba Nation. If the current chief refuses to call for and set a date for new tribal elections with objective procedures for conducting elections — which of course elections haven’t been called by Chief Blue for many years — then the people have a right call for an election by their own power as General Council members. Just do it!

A new constitution is not mandatory. It is a right of the Catawba people to develop the type of document they are proud to live under in which fairness and honor will be reflected in a well thought out and impartial document. The Catawba people have the right to keep their current constitution. If there is a desire to have a new constitution and the proposed new constitution is unacceptable — outside professional companies or law professors who have written such documents can be hired to write a document that specifically addresses the needs and culture of the Catawba people. Keep in mind that the Catawba Constitutional Committee did produce a new constitution, however, Chief Gilbert Blue selected to present to the Catawba members a different proposed new constitution — one that was not developed by the people.

Many issues of recent concern to the Catawba people could be addressed by simply developing laws to govern the conduct of tribal employees and contracting processes.


In view of the fact that the membership section is in direct conflict with federal law; there has been no information forthcoming to the Catawba people as to the legal obligations or debts incurred by the current administration; a blanket approval of past and current obligations is illogical and unwise to agree to; and finally the gross imbalance of the placement of power contained in the proposed new constitution, which for all practical purposes gives control of the government to a handful of individuals in the Executive Committee — a vote of  “No” on this constitution is fully justified.

Please see also the Letter from Heyward Canty, Jr. to Chief Gilbert Blue (October 30, 2000) protesting the draft Catawba constitution (from the Executive Committee) as granting to much power to the Executive Committee and not protecting the basic rights of the tribal members.

The document on this page is also available for download in the Portable Documents Format (const_commentary.pdf file). Opening and printing this .pdf file with the Adobe Acrobat reader should be much more convenient than printing the HTML file from the web browser.