EDITORIAL: The sound of silence
By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
In January 2016, Tribal Council passed a law (Resolution No. 87) that did away with verbatim written documentation of Council sessions as a matter of course. In other words, the exact words of the Council no longer had to be made into a written record and minutes of the sessions could be summarized.
Part of the discussion and reasoning was that because we have an audio/video recording of the proceedings, there would be no need for exact documentation. It was a cost and time savings measure that would remove some of the burden and tedium of direct documentation of the proceedings. The paraphrased and condensed versions are available online, as are the video replays of sessions. At any request, a verbatim report may be generated through the use of the video recordings of sessions. This law applies to “Budget Council, Tribal Council, working sessions and committee meetings”. The recordings are used to confirm the documentation process that is being used.
Unfortunately, throughout the course of a typical Tribal Council session, much of the discussion is missed by the microphones and not recorded because a Council member neglects to turn on the microphone when they are recognized to speak. Even in the gallery, it is very difficult to hear the discussion without the microphones on. It is impossible to hear on the video playback. There are times during the discussion and debate of a resolution that conversation among Council members will go for several minutes and at the end, an apology will be offered and the public will be advised of the pass/fail of the resolution. At other times, silent conversation will go on until someone calls in to the Council House to request that the microphones be turned on.
I understand that unofficial discussion takes place “off microphone” intentionally at times. That is appropriate and understandable. But, if a representative is chairing or being recognized by the Chair during a formal proceeding like a Tribal Council session, all comments made should be documented.
There needs to be a system in place to ensure that all that is publicly said by our representatives is documented during official proceedings. With their focus on the issues at hand, it should not be left up to the representatives to keep track of whether or not their microphones are on. A person dedicated to audio production during Council sessions would eliminate much of the missed discussion during deliberation. That person’s only job during the session would be to mix the sound, controlling each representative’s microphone and ensuring that, when appropriate, the microphone is on. Leaving all the microphones on at the same time causes technical issues.
Tribal Council sessions are some of the most, if not the most important, meetings that the Tribe conducts. In those sessions, decisions about your land ownership and use, per capita and municipal fund distribution, health care and just about any other important function of your livelihood and pursuit of happiness is open for the making of law for our people. You have a right to know not only how your representatives vote, but what they say about why and how they are casting a vote that may directly affect your future and future generations.