By Izzy Allum
With the 2018 midterm elections quickly approaching, American politics are once again in the spotlight. However, one area of American politics that has long being left in the shadows is the sovereign Native-American governments housed within our country. Native-American tribes, or “nations,” have separate, federally recognized governments, and they have the right to pass their own laws and run their own courts. For decades, the political representation of women and how to increase it has been extensively studied and discussed, but little research has been done on the representation of women in Native-American tribal governments. In an attempt to begin filling in this missing data, RepresentWomen has begun looking into the legislative and judicial branches of thirteen tribal governments.
For many tribes, the legislative branch consists of a council of typically elected representatives that addresses issues regarding the whole tribe, as well as local councils for each reservation or village. However, some tribes do not have a centralized legislative body, only local or regional councils. For the tribes with one centralized council, RepresentWomen found the percent of women on those councils, and for the tribes without, RepresentWomen calculated the average percentage of the local councils.
Of the ten tribes we studied with one main legislative body, women constituted an average of 27%. However, with a weighted average, that number drops to 15%. The range of women’s representation among these ten tribes ranged from a low of 0% to a high of 83% with three tribes, the Inuit, the Athabascan, and the Aleut, reaching or passing gender parity, and three, the Pueblo, the Blackfeet, and the Iroquois, having no women on their councils.
For the three tribes with no centralized legislative council, the average percent of women was noticeably higher. Sioux councils had an average of 30% women, the Chippewa an average of 35%, and the Apache an average of 48%. The weighted averages did not differ much from the unweighted averages. In comparison, women currently make up only 20% of the members in Congress and 25% of all state legislators.
However, it is important to keep in mind that calculating women's representation in this manner does not accurately reflect the sway of women in all tribes. For example, although the Iroquois grand council is made up of only male chiefs, the Iroquois are traditionally a matriarchal society. While women do not play a direct role in legislation, clan mothers appoint the chiefs who make up the council. These clan mothers also have the authority to veto laws passed by the council and to remove men from the council if they are not acting properly or in the interests of the tribe.
Information on the judicial branches proved more difficult to find. Fewer tribes had one high court that served all their members, and even when they did, exact information as to who served on the court was not always easily available. Moreover, some tribes do not have a separate judiciary. Rather, judicial roles are also taken on the by the tribal councils. This is due to the fact that traditionally most tribes did not have a court system, but handled disputes within the parties concerned.
One factor that did complicate research of these tribal governments was the fact that the boundaries of many tribes are not clearly defined. Some tribes share reservations and some are spread across several states, if not several countries. Please note that in cases of tribes like the Inuit or the Sioux where the tribal population is located across more than one country, the data collected for the tribe is representative of the global population.
With this data, RepresentWomen is just beginning its research into tribal governments. We believe in the importance of continuing to study the representation of all women and making information regarding its progress accessible for all. Over time we hope to expand our data to include many more tribes and more expansive information. For more information on the specific tribal governments we have researched thus far, feel free to explore the links below.
Izzy Allum is a rising high school senior at the National Cathedral School in DC. She is considering majoring in political science and economics in college, and she is excited to be interning at Represent Women for a second time this summer. In her spare time she enjoys fencing, baking, and reading.
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