Title: Reginald Quinn [ SEM 198 ]
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Title: Reginald Quinn SEM 198
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Language: English
Creator: Reginald Quinn
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Place of Publication: Gainesville, FL
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Reginald Quinn


[Reginald "Rex" Quinn is a Sioux Indian. In 1957 he
was sent by the Tribal Government Branch of the Bureau of
Indian Affairs to work with the Seminole Indians of Florida
in developing their constitution and by-laws. Over the next
few years he returned often to counsel with the fledgling
tribal government. From 1965 to 1967 he served as
superintendent of the Seminole Indian Agency. This
monologue is thought to have been recorded in 1977.]

This is Rex Quinn. I have been asked to talk about the
constitution and charter of the Seminole tribe that was
drawn back in 1957 and some of the thoughts that we had at
the time we were drafting that document. Before we discuss
the actual constitution and charter, I would like to discuss
the Indian tribe's right to self-government.

Indian tribes had self-government long before the white
man landed on this continent. Indian tribes governed the
conduct of their members, regulated their territory and
resources, protected tribal domain, and, in general,
provided their members with a sovereign government. Those
who did not provide government were destroyed.

When the white man arrived, he presumed tribal
government to be inferior to his own, and he felt that he
had a right to violate and to ignore Indian rights. History
discloses a long list of wars, conquests, and harsh
bargains, resulting in the taking of tribal territory,
resources, and the ancestral homes of Indian people. When
the framers of the United States Constitution drew up that
document, they specifically excluded state governments and
local governments from Indian affairs. The Constitution
reserved to the federal government the right to make
treaties, regulate commerce, and protect Indian tribes and
their property. It is from the Constitution of the United
States that the phrase "plenary power over Indian affairs"
is drawn.

During the early years of the republic, treaties were
the accepted method of doing business with Indian tribes.
Some eight hundred to one thousand Indian treaties were
drafted and ratified by Congress before 1871. Then in 1871
the Congress and the Indian Appropriation Act terminated the
treaty-making process.

Treaties were made with Indian tribes by England,
France, Spain, and the United States. These treaties were
an agreement of one nation with another nation. The right
of tribal self-government was a sovereign right that was

recognized by all governments. Indian tribes always had
this right; this was not something that was given to them by
some other form of government.

Back in 1957 Bill Osceola, Billy Osceola, and Laura Mae
Osceola cornered Glenn Emmons, commissioner of Indian
affairs, and petitioned him for some kind of tribal
government that would give them, the Seminoles, a voice in
their own affairs. What ticked these people off was that
the area director, Paul Fickinger, had been withdrawing
tribal funds from the U.S. Treasury without the knowledge or
the consent of the tribe.

Paul Fickinger was strongly opposed to self-government
for the Seminoles. Several of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
[BIA] employees at the Seminole Agency were also opposed.
The Mikasuki Indian tribe was opposed because they felt that
they would somehow be involved, and they did not want any
part of the BIA. Several local attorneys were involved on
one pretext or another, and they, too, were opposed. As a
matter of fact, they were responsible for a lot of bad press
in the Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale News which
voiced strong opinions against the tribe setting up self-
government for themselves.

Paul Fickinger based his opposition on a report that
one of his staff members had drawn up. He made some very
derogatory remarks about the Seminoles' ability to take care
of their own affairs. He felt that the tribe needed a
considerable amount of assistance and that they should not
be allowed to have a tribal government.

Glenn Emmons, faced with all of these situations, asked
me to come down and take a look at the situation and see
what I thought about it and to advise him [as to] what he
ought to do. So I came down to Seminole, [Florida,] and I
met with the tribal leaders--Bill, Billy, and Laura Mae.
They were a little bit disappointed in me because I was an
Indian. They did not think that an Indian could help them
overcome the opposition and the problems they were faced
with. But we went along anyway, and that did not arise
again as a problem.

I visited on the Dania, Big Cypress, and Brighton
reservations, and I talked to the people [in] different
places. The tribal leaders took me around and introduced me
to other leaders on those reservations, and I had a chance
to meet with them and talk with them a little bit. I gained
a general opinion that the Indians were strongly in favor of
tribal self-government, that they were ready for it, and
that they should have it.

While I was getting myself oriented to the Seminole
situation, Paul Fickinger and members of his staff arrived.
They set up a meeting at the old Broward Hotel down in Fort
Lauderdale. Some of the agency's staff members were there,
and some of his people from Miscogee were there. They
invited me to come, so I went down. During the course of
that meeting, the area director called the commissioner of
Indian affairs, and he made a very strong protest against
organizing the Seminole tribe into a tribal government. He
thought it would be very foolish and would be detrimental to
the tribe.

After he made all of these statements, he asked me if I
wanted to talk to the commissioner. So I said all right. I
took the phone and said, "Mr. Emmons, I do not agree with
everything the area director said. I think that he has been
misled a little bit. I think the report that he is relying
on is not accurate. The woman who drew this report up did
not talk with the tribal leaders. She got most of her
information from the agency employees, and some of them are
strongly opposed to the tribe setting up any kind of
government." But [then] I said, "I have had a chance to
talk to the tribal leaders on all the reservations, and I am
of the opinion that they not only are ready for tribal
government [but] they want it, and I think that if they get
good, strong technical assistance they can handle it very
well." Mr. Emmons thanked me, and he said, "Rex, that is
what I wanted to hear. Go ahead and organize it." I said,
OK. I told Mr. Fickinger and the agency staff members there
that the commissioner had instructed me to go ahead with the
organization and that I was going to do that. They were a
little bit miffed by this, but there was not much they could
do. When the boss says do something, you have to do it.

I went back to my hotel and called Billy Osceola--he
was the only one on the reservation who had a telephone--to
tell him about the meeting. I said that Mr. Emmons had
decided that they should have a government and that I was to
help them. He got very excited about that and said, "Now
what do we do?" I said, "The next step would be to assemble
the general council of the Seminole tribe--all three
reservations--and we will have a meeting. If they are in
agreement with setting up a tribal government, we will go
ahead with that and ask them to appoint a constitutional
committee." He said, "When do you want it?" I said,
"Whenever you want to set it up is all right with me." He
said, "Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00." I said OK.

I got over to the agency at 2:00 in the afternoon, and
the Indians were there from all the reservations, and we met

under the old oak tree. This was a very colorful meeting.
The Seminoles were there in native dress. It was a natural
meeting. There were no chairs or anything. There was a
small table and a couple of chairs for me and the
superintendent to sit on. The rest of them were either
standing or sitting on the ground. Bill and Laura Mae and
Billy got up, and they explained to the group what had
transpired and that they were now in a position to go ahead
with the process of setting up a tribal government.

They asked me what they had to do. I told them that
they were going to have to appoint a constitutional
committee and that I would work with this constitutional
committee to draft a constitution and a charter. When we
got through with that, we would explain it to the people so
they understood it. Then they would have a chance to vote
on it. It was important to get good representation on this
constitutional committee, because these were the people who
would be drawing up a document that was going to be a
permanent part of their history.

After much discussion the general council selected a
constitutional committee. Bill Osceola was made chairman of
that committee, Mike Osceola was made secretary of that
committee, [and] Laura Mae was designated as interpreter.
Billy Osceola and John Henry Gopher from Brighton were on
that committee. Frank Billie from Big Cypress and Jackie
Willy from Dania made up [the rest of] that committee.

The day after the committee was formed, we met at a
little office that the agency had provided for the tribal
leaders to meet in. We went over there and sat down and
started. I did a lot of explaining of how a constitution
was formed, what was in it, and what needed to be covered.
I spent a couple of days orienting the constitutional
committee to a tribal government and explaining how it
functioned and so on. Many of those people had never heard
of it, had never seen one, did not know what it was all
about. It took a little while before they got oriented to
what this document meant and what had to be in it.

We worked on this constitutional committee, the
constitutional committee worked on this constitution, and we
began drafting it article by article and section by section.
When we got an article completed and all the sections, the
constitutional committee would say, "OK. Now we are going
to go to Big Cypress tonight, and we are going to explain
this." So after supper we would get in the car, and we
would drive up to Big Cypress. Maybe it would take fifteen
or twenty minutes to read that particular article, but it
would take five or six hours to explain it to the people.

We would be there until twelve or one o'clock in the

We would come back that night, and the next day we
would start again on a new section. We kept this up for two
months until we got the constitution completed and until we
got the charter completed. All during this period, this
constitutional committee never lost interest, they never got
bored, they were willing to work, and they were willing to
go to any length to get it explained to the members of the
tribe. They just did an outstanding job in the short time
that we worked with this constitution. It was one of the
finest constitutional committees that I ever worked with.

Now let us discuss the constitution and by-laws. I
really do not want to get into a lot of detail because that
would take too long. There are a few things in the
constitution that I would like to discuss. The first is the
management, lease, and other dealings with tribal lands and
communal resources.

The broad, general language in the constitution and by-
laws gives the tribal council authority to control tribal
resources, and that includes land and money. Actually, the
tribal council could carry on all the business activities of
the tribe if it had a mind to do that. That is not what the
constitutional committee wanted to have done, but we were
careful to see that the constitutional rights of the tribes
were protected insofar as doing business was concerned.
That is why that language is put into the tribal

In recent years the federal courts have entertained a
lot of suits dealing with taxing income from businesses on
tribal land, taxing income from restricted Indian land,
taxing non-Indian-owned property on Indian reservations,
and, in general, trying to find a chink in the armor of
tribal sovereignty. With this in mind, I believe it would
be well for an Indian tribe to be careful in the manner in
which it draws up contracts, leases, and agreements with
non-Indians, because the courts might find a weakness if one
exists. I am sure that if they did find it, they would take
advantage of it. Personally, if I were a tribal leader, I
would prefer to have my property in a tribal status rather
than in a corporate status, because in a tribal status it is
protected from suit. Tribal immunity from suit exists in
tribal property; that is not true in corporate property. In
some instances corporate property is subject to suit and is
therefore exposed.

Another feature in the constitution is the
responsibility of the tribal council to manage health,
education, and welfare. As a superintendent I always found
that this was a very difficult area to cover because there
was never enough money. We had a lot of ideas on how to
improve conditions in education and health and welfare, but
we never had enough money to do it. When I was
superintendent at Fort Berthold, [North Dakota,] back in the
late 1940s, the tribe got a rather substantial windfall
payment from the government. I was able to get the tribe to
invest some money in the higher education of its members.
When I first got to Fort Berthold the first year, there were
[only] four high school graduates: one boy and three girls.
When I left there four years later, we had twenty-five high
school graduates, and we had fifty boys and girls in
colleges and universities all over the United States.

Recently, some of these people who went through the
Fort Berthold higher education program have come into
prominence. Mr. Fredericks, who was the assistant secretary
of the interior in charge of tribal affairs, came out of
that program. Hans Walker, who is the solicitor for tribal
affairs in the Department of the Interior, came out of that
program. Ansel Baker, who is an area director at Billings,
Montana, came out of that program. Kelly Walker, who is in
charge of all of the inner-church higher education
activities and is the chairman of that whole group, came out
of that program. And there were a lot of other people who
came out of that program. Things like that are very
gratifying, and it is these types of things that the tribal
council is responsible for.

In your own situation--the Seminole case--I remember
that when I got here your tribal housing program had been
disapproved. The people up North said that Seminoles live
in a tropical paradise. They do not need houses like the
Indians up North that freeze every winter need. I got Earl
Trickta, who was an Agency employee, and Max Osceola, and I
asked them to make a study of every Indian camp on all of
the reservations. I wanted to know how they cooked, how
they stored their food (did they have refrigeration and
electricity?), where they got their water, what kind of
sanitary conditions they had, what kind of houses they had
(were they chickees or what were they living in?), how many
families were in each camp, and so on.

We got all of this information. Then I went to the
public health people, and I said, "Our Seminoles are always
sick. What are the causes of their health problems?" I
found that upper respiratory problems were one of the main
cases. I guess you just have to freeze one night to get

pneumonia. The drinking water was bad and that led to
dysentery and a lot of fatalities among the younger kids.
There was a lack of sanitary conditions--toilet facilities--
and also an inadequate storage of food. Milk could not be
kept too long [because] it would sour. The Indians had a
very difficult time.

We put all of this information together, and I had six
sets of pictures and six reports made up. I took one to HEW
[Department of Health, Education and Welfare], I took one to
the Indian office, and I took one to HUD [Department of
Housing and Urban Development] and gave them this
information. They were very receptive to it. HUD said,
"Resubmit that program. We will take another look at it."
So we did, and they approved all the programs that we
submitted. They approved the home-improvement plan, the
self-help program, the turn-key program, and the low-rent
program. They approved all of them. I understand that now
there are water and sewage plants and that there are
hundreds of houses all over the reservations. It takes time
for these programs to come into fruition, but they are very
worthwhile programs. This is basically why the tribal
constitution and the tribal council have such a tremendously
important job to do for their people.

Before I go on to the corporate charter, I would like
to tell you about the Indian Reorganization Act that was
passed on June 18, 1934, by Congress. For one hundred fifty
years the government was trying to deal with four [hundred]
to five hundred Indian tribes scattered from the Everglades
in Florida to Point Barrow in Alaska. Now, the Indian
Reorganization Act did a lot of things, but it did not
change the powers of an Indian tribe to govern itself. What
it did was regulate tribal procedure. In other words, we
set up regular forms of tribal government: constitution and
by-laws, tribal councils, boards, governing bodies of one
kind or another, and defined their authorities so we knew
what they were permitted to do and what they were not
permitted to do. It also, then, established a very definite
relationship between the Indian tribe and the secretary of
the interior. There are certain things that require the
secretary to approve as a matter of law. The tribe passes a
resolution, which requires departmental approval, it goes to
the department. If he does not act within ninety days, it
becomes law anyway. It becomes tribal law. So there was a
very definite relationship between a tribe and the secretary
established by that.

By far the most important thing that the Indian
Reorganization Act did was to make permanent tribal
government, their constitutions, and charters. The

constitutional charter cannot be changed by anybody. Tribal
leaders cannot change it; the membership cannot change it.
What has to happen before it can be changed is [that] a
mutual agreement [must be] reached by the members of the
tribe and the secretary of the interior. The only other way
that it can be changed is by an act of Congress. So that
made tribal government a federally recognized and federally
sponsored organization which is permanent and cannot be
taken away. It gives the tribe a real solid foundation upon
which to build.

We must bear in mind at all times that tribal powers
hold their force and effect by the will of the people. More
tribes experience trouble in carrying out their programs
because of factionalism, jealousy, malpractice, and things
of that kind. I want to tell you about a situation with
which I am personally familiar, and that is the Red Lake
tribal situation.

When Peter Graves, the old traditional leader, died--he
was up in his seventies when he died--he had been leader for
thirty or forty years. During that period he had changed
the traditional form of Red Lake government to a point where
nobody knew it, nobody understood it, and [nobody]
recognized it. When he died, there was a battle for a
successor for him. His grandson, Byron Graves, wanted the
job, and also Roger Jordain wanted the job. For a period of
two or three years they fought each other tooth and nail.
During that period the BIA had to take over all tribal
activities, and it did not seem that the Indians were going
to be able to work themselves out of that predicament.

The commissioner asked me to go out and sit down with
those people and see what we could work out. I got out
there and told them, after some few days of reviewing the
situation and meeting with the various committees and
various groups of the tribe, "I think your traditional form
of government is gone; it has been destroyed. I do not
think you can go back to that. I think you should have a
new constitution. I think you should start over again."
They agreed, and they appointed a constitutional committee.
I sat down with that committee, and we worked out a
completely new constitution. They have had a lot of battles
since then, but the tribe has not been disturbed or
disrupted. I read in the paper sometime back that
[somebody] took a couple of shots at Roger Jordain, but
aside from that they can continue their government, and they
have continued their government.

I think it is very important for tribal leaders and for
the membership to recognize that for government to be

effective it has to be a government of law. That means you
stay within the meaning and intent of the constitution and
by-laws and corporate charter. You cannot substitute your
own views for those. The federal government would not
recognize it, and the tribal members should not recognize
it. So it is important to bear that in mind. Tribal
government runs into the most serious problems when their
own people enter into battles within the organization and
internally tear things up. That is an important problem,
and it is one that should be guarded against at all times.

Now let us talk a little about the corporate powers.
At the time the constitutional committee and I were drafting
the documents, we kept coming up against the idea of setting
up a separate board of directors to take care of business
activities. The [Seminole] tribal leaders recognized that
maybe the talents that one leader might have in, say,
community services would not be applicable in business. One
man might be a cattleman and another a minister. They could
be both, but their interests are different. After much
discussion, they decided that they would like to have a
separate board that would be responsible for taking care of
such business as the tribe had.

When the [Seminole] charter was drawn, the board of
directors was provided. At the time the corporate charter
was ratified and approved by Secretary Emmons, it had
nothing. It did not have any land, it did not have any
money, and it had no resources. All it had was a corporate
charter and a board of directors. The tribal council
transferred to the board the credit program, and the board
took over the management of the loan program for its

The tribal council provided the land and money and
material, in addition to the revolving credit that the board
was able to get, to build the Seminole Indian Village. The
same thing is true of the land development program. The
bureau put in technical supervision and put in money for
fertilizers and things of that kind, the tribe put in
equipment and money, the board borrowed revolving credit
money, and the stockmen paid their grazing fees. All of
this money was used to develop a program. So it is
difficult in a conglomerated situation like this to
determine what is tribal property and what is corporate
property. Like I said a little earlier, if I had the
choice, I would call it tribal property, because that gives
it an immunity from suit. In other words, you do not want
your bull herds taken over by the state under some pretext
or another. If they are considered to be tribal bull herds,

they are immune from state and local government laws. It is
important to keep these things in mind.

I think that the corporations can do really great
things, and I want to give you an example of something that
happened also at Fort Berthold when I was there. The
Garrison Dam had been built, which was going to flood the
reservation. We had about ten to twenty million board feet
of cottonwood timber that was going to be drowned and had to
be salvaged. Those Indians had never had any experience
with salvaging timber; they did not know anything about
timber operations. So we went to the University of
Minnesota, which has a big forestry department, and they
gave us a lot of advice. They also put us in touch with a
man who had a portable mill and who had made a living
cutting timber. We bought his mill and hired him, and in a
short time he had the Indians trained. In a matter of six
months or so they were cutting timber like the dickens.
They were cutting somewhere around one hundred thousand
board feet a month.

Well, we soon had more timber than the Indians could
use. We were selling it to the members of the tribe for $25
per 1,000 board feet. When the Indians quit buying it and
did not need any more of it, then the tribe began to sell it
to the people. This little enterprise salvaged the lumber,
but it also gave thirty-five to forty jobs to Indian people.
And it brought money into the tribal treasury. So getting
people jobs--getting Indians opportunities to earn a living
to have a decent life--is a vitally important thing, and it
is something that the board should concern itself with.

That is what the board is set up for. The
constitutional committee had that in mind when the board of
directors was established. Otherwise, the activities of the
board could have been managed by a tribal council. That is
done on many tribes throughout the United States. The only
exception is the Seminoles. The Seminole [tribe] has a
board of directors for its corporate organization and a
tribal council for its constitutional authorities. It is
the only [Indian] government in the country that has both
types of leaders.

Both the tribal council and the board have tough jobs,
no question about it. One of the things that happened at
Fort Berthold many years ago was that the Indians had a
large battle over whether they should [jointly] use their
seven and a half million [dollars] that they got from the
federal government under planned programing or whether it
should be "per-capitated"--divided up, share and share

I supported the program, and a lot of people on the
reservation supported it. For a short while we had a
majority. However, because the secretary of the interior
did not act promptly enough, the original proposal died.
The opposition went to Congress, and they told the
Congressmen that not even the secretary of the interior
would approve this program. Therefore, the only alternative
left was to have a per-capita payment. So Congress
authorized the per-capita payment, and that is what they
got. They divided it up.

What happened there is typical. There were about 25
percent of the people who were capable of handling all of
their properties and did not need any help from anybody.
They made good use of the money. [The other] 75 percent of
the people blew their money, and in six months to one year
they were broke. Then when the tribal council went back to
Congress for more money, the Congress said, "Well, we just
gave you $7.5 million. You said you could handle your own
affairs. You got the money, and now you want us to go back
and sponsor the program you said was no good." Those poor
people were left out and were faced with their own dilemma.
They had made a choice that was unfortunate, and they have
been living with that unfortunate choice ever since.

So it is important for people to think things out
carefully, [to] think things out in terms of what is in the
best interest of the people. Some of the people are going
to need a lot of help for a long time. Others are not going
to need very much help; all they are going to need is an
opportunity. It takes a wise government to understand the
various needs of its people and to be able to provide
programs and assistance to help everybody and to see that
each member of the tribe receives benefits from the income
that the tribe is able to generate.

Well, I enjoyed this meeting very much. I look forward
to meeting members of the tribe and my old friends. I had a
great time talking with Bill Osceola. I think, personally,
if the Seminole tribe ever decides to have a hall of fame
for its members, that the constitutional committee should be
included in any such recognition. I guess I made a error.
I eliminated or did not mention Willie Frank. I do not know
whether he was on the actual committee or not, but he was a
very distinct part of that committee all the way through,
and I want to add his name to the list. Thank you very

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