Tribes Reluctant To Follow Northwest Voters On Legal Marijuana

File photo. Northwest tribes are in no rush to legalize marijuana.Austin Jenkins Northwest News Network
File photo. Northwest tribes are in no rush to legalize marijuana.
Austin Jenkins Northwest News Network


By Jessica Robinson, NW News Network

The U.S. Department of Justice this week opened the door to a legalized pot market on tribal land.

But many Northwest tribes appear to be in no rush to go in the direction of Oregon and Washington voters.

The Department of Justice said it will treat Indian tribes that legalize pot with the same hands-off prosecutorial approach that it’s treated states with legal pot. That means there could be a potentially lucrative marijuana business on reservations even in states like Idaho, where pot remains illegal.

But it’s still up to the tribe.

Charles Sams of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation said drug law enforcement is a matter of public health.

“The tribe will continue to prosecute and cite those folks who are in violation of those laws,” he said.

In Washington, the Yakama Nation wants to ban sales both on its reservation and on millions of acres of surrounding land where it has treaty rights.

The Department of Justice decision came as a surprise to many tribes. The policy adviser for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in north Idaho said legalizing pot hadn’t even been on the tribe’s radar.

Studio looks for Native American stars

By Daily Times staff, The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — TBA, a Los Angeles-based network, is hosting a casting call today and Saturday for a reality TV “docuseries” about a subculture of Native American youth.

The studio is looking for people between 18 and 28 years old who are interested in a medical career, environmentalism, leadership or similar programs. The people must be outgoing and not camera shy.

Auditions are from 4 to 8 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Comfort Inn Suites, 1951 Cortland Drive in Farmington.

The show will focus on young Native Americans who leave the reservations, tribes, cultures and ways of life to pursue life in a city.

The studio is looking for a few people who are willing to leave everything behind to pursue their “big dream.”

According to a press release, the show will look at how their leaving might cause disruption to their communities and what they are willing to endure to achieve a dream bigger than themselves. If they succeed, their work will help many others including their tribe.

TBA is comparing the new series to Breaking Amish.

For more information, call or text 818-299-0949

Making Natives Copy White Parents Destroys Indigenous Families

Tanya H. Lee, Indian Country Today


Working closely with four American Indian tribes and four Canadian First Nations, Les Whitbeck, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his colleagues have developed a model of adolescent development for indigenous youth, based on data collected during an 8-year longitudinal study of 746 tribally-enrolled kids. “Indigenous Adolescent Development: Psychological, Social and Historical Contexts” (Routledge), the first book based on the research, details the findings from the first four years of this landmark study, when the kids were ages 11 to 15.

The study began as part of an effort to create culturally-based prevention programs for adolescents in tribal communities. “It became really apparent,” says Whitbeck, “that majority cultural measures just weren’t going to explain what was going on with these kids. We became more and more aware that what we needed was a whole different developmental model that took into account their historical context, their geographical context, community context, family context and peer context.”

This conclusion is consistent with Whitbeck’s earlier work. For example, he is vehement in his defense of indigenous parenting practices. “I have especially strong feelings about parenting programs. When people go out, well-meaning, good people go out onto reservations with parenting programs that are based on two-parent nuclear families that don’t take into account cultural variations in family structure, particularly extended family influence, clans and that kind of thing, they’re basically doing what the boarding schools did. They’re going out and teaching white parenting and undermining the traditional strengths of indigenous families, which are huge.”

The developmental model the researchers constructed for adolescents, explains Whitbeck, has concentric circles representing each of the developmental contexts for indigenous kids. “Then we have a wedge that goes right down through those circles.” The wedge represents historical cultural losses. “Ethnic cleansing,” he says, “has impacted every single developmental context that these kids are experiencing.”

The model has provided the basis for creating the kind of prevention program Whitbeck was looking for. The program, explains Whitbeck, is intended to delay the onset of substance use among kids. It has been adapted for several tribes—Lakota, Dakota, a couple of pueblos and one Navajo community—but Whitbeck stresses that tribes will need to adapt the model and the prevention program to fit their own kids and communities.

“We’re trying to think in terms of community-wide intervention,” says Whitbeck. One extremely important finding from the research is that negative, stressful life events, on which there has been a lot of focus recently as predictors of poor outcomes for kids, do not necessarily cause permanent damage.

“We saw something that was totally unexpected,” he says. “If you take positive life events—and positive life events were defined by the kid getting community recognition, being recognized by the tribal council, recognized in school, participating in community activities—they blow those negative life events out of the water! So now we’re thinking that maybe there’s a key there. Involving kids early in tribal community activities, recognizing them, honoring them, getting them involved in community things. I think there’s a real opportunity there.”

Community is key to this work in more ways, too. Whitbeck describes the eagerness with which adult study participants (researchers interviewed family and caretakers as well as the kids) embraced communal activities that were part of the research.

And it was the tribal communities themselves that helped develop and oversaw the study. “We started out with the partnership model where they approved first of all us being here. There was great support for the study. The tribal councils appointed advisory boards on each of the reservations and reserves. They literally approved every word of the questionnaire.

“We also developed through the elders, service providers and our advisory boards a concept of major historical loss, which is a different kind of approach to historical trauma. With this concept we use a measure of stress caused by repeated thoughts of historical losses suffered and then see how that impinges on everyday functioning and mental health,” explains Whitbeck.

And much of the research—leading focus groups with elders, parents, relatives and the kids themselves, for example—was carried out by American Indians, among them Melissa Walls, Bois Forte and Couchiching First Nation Ojibwe, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who led the focus groups on parenting, which addressed questions such as, “How does the act of taking care of a little one from birth to even through adulthood look unique or similar to what we see in non-Native populations?”

Several scholarly papers have come out of the research. But the book is different. “We write these very technical articles that involve very sophisticated statistical analyses and approaches. Our tribal advisory boards read the articles that we were putting in the book. And they came back to us and they said, ‘You know, Les, can you write in English?’” So the researchers wrote the book for a lay audience so the information would be accessible and useful to service people, tribal leaders and educators.

Then they went out and bought dozens of copies to give to the tribes that participated in the study because the price of the book is so high. “The worst ethical thing you can do is take people’s lives and sell it back to them,” says Whitbeck. He’s hoping to convince the publisher to put out a paperback edition.



Montana Indian voting lawsuit settled

By John S. Adams, Great Falls Tribune


HELENA – Indian plaintiffs who sued in federal court to force the Montana secretary of state and three rural counties to open satellite voting offices on remote reservations have settled the lawsuit out of court.

Under the agreement, the three counties agree to open satellite voting locations on three reservations and pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees in the amount of $75,000. In a separate agreement, the state agrees to pay an additional $25,000 in attorney fees, according to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch.

“I pledged to help assist the tribes and the counties to make this all work,” McCulloch said.

Both sides hailed the agreement as a win.

Northern Cheyenne tribal member Mark Wandering Medicine, along with 11 other Indian plaintiffs, in February 2013 sued McCulloch and county elections officials in Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties, alleging the defendants violated portions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which “prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups.”

The plaintiffs argued their rights to equal access to voting were violated when McCulloch and county elections officials refused to set up satellite voting offices on remote Indian reservations in advance of the November 2012 presidential election.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the ACLU of Montana and the national ACLU Voting Rights Project filed court documents supporting the plaintiffs’ claims that tribal members living on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap Reservations are at a voting disadvantage compared to white voters in Rosebud, Blaine and Big Horn counties.

The plaintiffs argued that the only late-registration and early voting options available to them between the close of regular voting registration and Election Day is at county courthouses in the white population centers. In some cases those courthouses are more than 100 miles round-trip from where most tribal members live, making it difficult for many impoverished Indians to register late and vote after the regular registration deadline.

The case was set to go to trial June 30.

In a settlement agreement reached Tuesday, the counties agreed to open satellite county election offices beginning Oct. 7. Those offices will be open on the reservations two days a week for tribal members to register late and cast absentee ballots in person.

During those days the voting offices will not be open at their normal locations in the county seats.

Alex Rate, attorney for the Wandering Medicine plaintiffs, said the settlement agreement is a bit step toward the goal of achieving voting equality on the reservations.

“Given the history of discrimination against Montana’s first peoples, we believe that everyone should have equal access to the ballot box, and this agreement is a giant step towards reaching that goal,” Rate said. “Further, this agreement validates the central pillar of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act: that Indian voters must have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.”

Bret Healy, a South Dakota-based Indian voting rights consultant with Four Directions, called the settlement a big victory for Indian voting rights but said the underlying technical issues that are preventing the state and counties from opening full-fledged satellite voting offices still need to be addressed.

“The final solution that we think is the appropriate one is to wrestle the technology obstacle to the ground so a satellite office is open five days a week as well as the county voting office,” Healy said.

The defendants argued that the plaintiffs’ demands for satellite voting offices were not allowed under Montana law, which requires each absentee ballot to be issued in sequential order using paper ballots that are prenumbered. The ballot number an absentee voter receives is determined by a complex, statewide computerized system that is not programmed to issue ballots from more than one location, the defendants said. Due to Montana law, as well as technical impossibilities with the statewide computer system, satellite offices were not an option, they argued.

“Because what the plaintiffs sued for was not something they could obtain, Blaine, Big Horn and Rosebud counties offered the plaintiffs an alternative,” said Sara Frankenstein, the attorney representing the counties in the litigation. “The three counties have offered to move their election offices for two days a week from its normal location in the county courthouse to a tribal facility on Indian reservations during the 30-day early voting period. The three counties are looking forward to working with their respective tribes on that issue, and are happy to address plaintiffs’ concerns with an alternative method that is actually legal and possible, and at the same time will cost the county very little to provide.”

Healy said the Secretary of State’s Office needs to work to address the technology hurdles in order to give tribal members on the reservations full equal voting opportunities.

“The bottom line is Native American voters on these reservations are going to go from zero days of equality and late registration and absentee balloting opportunities to at least a strong step forward,” Healy said.

McCulloch said counties will not be able to have two voting offices open simultaneously under current state law.

“The law would have to be changed and the Montana Votes system would have to be changed,” McCulloch said.

Healy said with this “inelegant fix” in place, Four Directions will work with other tribes across the state to request similar arrangements in their counties while at the same time continue to advocate for full satellite voting offices on the reservations.

“It simply defies belief that in this day and age we can’t have main voting office and satellite offices open and running five days a week,” Healy said. “The only reason that hasn’t happened is because nobody has rolled up their sleeves and tried to fix this.”

Walsh to hold hearing on the challenges to voting

Montana Sen. John Walsh on June 25 will chair a Senate Rules Committee hearing examining the hurdles voters in rural areas face due to long distances to polls, lack of easy access to mail voting and the lack of infrastructure. The committee will also hear about ways states have tried to make voting easier for people.

Walsh’s office said he organized the hearing in response to the concerns he heard from people across Montana, particularly in Indian Country.

The hearing title is “Election Administration: Examining How Early and Absentee Voting Can Benefit Citizens and Administrators.”

Witnesses at the hearing include:

• Rhonda Whiting, board chair for Western Native Voice, a Montana nonprofit that seeks to increase Native American voting and voting access, headquartered in Billings.

• Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.

• Larry Lomax, of Nevada, a former member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

On My Upcoming Trip to Indian Country

President Barack Obama, June 5, 2014, Source: Indian Country Today

Six years ago, I made my first trip to Indian country. I visited the Crow Nation in Montana—an experience I’ll never forget. I left with a new Crow name, an adoptive Crow family, and an even stronger commitment to build a future that honors old traditions and welcomes every Native American into the American Dream.

Next week, I’ll return to Indian country, when Michelle and I visit the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannonball, North Dakota. We’re eager to visit this reservation, which holds a special place in American history as the home of Chief Sitting Bull. And while we’re there, I’ll announce the next steps my Administration will take to support jobs, education, and self-determination in Indian country.

As president, I’ve worked closely with tribal leaders, and I’ve benefited greatly from their knowledge and guidance. That’s why I created the White House Council on Native American Affairs—to make sure that kind of partnership is happening across the federal government. And every year, I host the White House Tribal Nations Conference, where leaders from every federally recognized tribe are invited to meet with members of my Administration. Today, honoring the nation-to-nation relationship with Indian country isn’t the exception; it’s the rule. And we have a lot to show for it.

Together, we’ve strengthened justice and tribal sovereignty. We reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, giving tribes the power to prosecute people who commit domestic violence in Indian country, whether they’re Native American or not. I signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, which strengthened the power of tribal courts to hand down appropriate criminal sentences. And I signed changes to the Stafford Act to let tribes directly request disaster assistance, because when disasters strike, you shouldn’t have to wait for a middleman to get the help you need.

Together, we’ve resolved longstanding disputes. We settled a discrimination suit by Native American farmers and ranchers, and we’ve taken steps to make sure that all federal farm loan programs are fair to Native Americans from now on. And I signed into law the Claims Resolution Act, which included the historic Cobell settlement, making right years of neglect by the Department of the Interior and leading to the establishment of the Land Buy-Back Program to consolidate Indian lands and restore them to tribal trust lands.

Together, we’ve increased Native Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care. One of the reasons I fought so hard to pass the Affordable Care Act is that it permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which provides care to many in tribal communities. And under the Affordable Care Act, Native Americans across the country now have access to comprehensive, affordable coverage, some for the first time.

Together, we’ve worked to expand opportunity. My Administration has built roads and high-speed internet to connect tribal communities to the broader economy. We’ve made major investments in job training and tribal colleges and universities. We’ve tripled oil and gas revenues on tribal lands, creating jobs and helping the United States become more energy independent. And we’re working with tribes to get more renewable energy projects up and running, so tribal lands can be a source of renewable energy and the good local jobs that come with it.

We can be proud of the progress we’ve made together. But we need to do more, especially on jobs and education. Native Americans face poverty rates far higher than the national average – nearly 60 percent in some places. And the dropout rate of Native American students is nearly twice the national rate. These numbers are a moral call to action. As long as I have the honor of serving as President, I’ll do everything I can to answer that call.

That’s what my trip next week is all about. I’m going to hear from as many people as possible—ranging from young people to tribal leaders—about the successes and challenges they face every day. And I’ll announce new initiatives to expand opportunity in Indian country by growing tribal economies and improving Indian education.

As I’ve said before, the history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises. But I believe that during my Administration, we’ve turned a corner together. We’re writing a new chapter in our history—one in which agreements are upheld, tribal sovereignty is respected, and every American Indian and Alaskan Native who works hard has the chance to get ahead. That’s the promise of the American Dream. And that’s what I’m working for every day—in every village, every city, every reservation—for every single American.



Talking Points: Sen. Heitkamp Discusses Native Issues

Courtesy Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s OfficeSen. Heidi Heitkamp, right, was in attendance for the Champions for Change ceremony in Washington, D.C. recently. Heitkamp is pictured with office intern and one of the five Champions for Change Danielle Finn.
Courtesy Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s Office
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, right, was in attendance for the Champions for Change ceremony in Washington, D.C. recently. Heitkamp is pictured with office intern and one of the five Champions for Change Danielle Finn.


Vincent Schilling, ICTMN


U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp is the first female elected from North Dakota. Since taking the oath of office on January 3, 2013, Heitkamp has shown herself to be a strong advocate fighting for the needs of Indian country as she has been since her role as state Attorney General beginning in 1990.

As a member on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Heitkamp has pledged to stand for Native American families and has worked to ensure the U.S. government lives up to treaty and trust responsibilities.

Last October, Heitkamp introduced a bill to improve the lives of Native American children that has received bipartisan support as well as another bill with Republican Senator Moran that would end the IRS’ practice of taxing crucial programs and services that aim to support the health and safety of Native families. Additionally she is an advocate for the Violence Against Women Act and better transportation and infrastructure on reservations.

In a conversation with ICTMN, Heitkamp shared her stance on the importance of working for the betterment of Indian country and why we should all fight for the needs of our children.

Can you tell us about your bill regarding the Commission on Native Children?

I don’t think there’s any aspect of Indian country that would be left untouched as we talk about children. It really comes to me from the words of Sitting Bull, who said “Let us now sit down and decide what kind of life we can make for our children,” I am paraphrasing, but if we stay focused on kids and our children we will make good choices and we will hopefully get better attention to the challenges for Native American families.

The important part of this commission is that we need to be looking at it from a holistic standpoint. You see people talk about Indian education or protection of our children or health care for our children or making sure that we have good transportation so that our kids can get to school. All of these things have a direct effect, but we worry about the programs and not about the outcomes.

For instance, I feel that Native languages are a huge component of the child bill because I think it is a way that we begin to grasp that cultural connection to heal families to provide the pride to move forward.

You played a key role in the Violence Against Women Act, you specifically pushed for tribal governments to gain authority to prosecute non-Native perpetrators, how are things going?

Currently three tribal courts have been selected as a sort of first pass – from there we will learn what tribal courts need to do as a court that has the authority and the jurisdiction to act over non-Native offenders.

We are taking those first steps but it is not enough to pass legislation. We have to be vigilant about making sure that that legislation is given its full effect. I think at this point, We are all grateful this is on track but we need to make sure that these test pilot tribal courts work.

None of these courts are in my state, I am really looking forward to seeing this implemented in my state so that Native American women do not and are not treated as second class citizens as it relates to the pursuit of justice.

I spent a lot of my time as Attorney General with domestic violence programs and it was one of the reasons why I ran for AG.

Can you speak on transportation infrastructure on reservations?

Obviously we are always road challenged in North Dakota. It doesn’t matter if you are at Township – We have issues with roads just given our weather patterns. One of the concerns that I have, Are the stories such as roads not getting plowed so that children cannot go to school or maybe grandma needs to get in for her diabetes treatment, but she cannot get out for groceries.

The frustration that I have is that we probably could see better cooperation between County and State officials along with tribal authorities – but the federal highway folks need to step up and do a better job allocating resources.

There is a great deal of concern about retention of overhead costs, so that these dollars don’t actually go back to the tribes, but are retained within the programs in Washington, D.C.

I realize that when we talk about roads, it is not going to fill up the room, but it might be (what is) most important to a Native American family. It is so important that we talk about this now as we’re looking at, again, reauthorizing the Highway Bill.

You are working to end the taxation of tribal programs through the IRS with Sen. Moran, can you explain?

We are very concerned about an IRS agent questioning the judgment of a sovereign entity as they relate to what constitutes general welfare. I think there’s a fair amount of a lack of understanding as to what tribal governments do and how culturally significant a lot of this is. To suggest that a family who receives funeral dinner and funeral services aught to be taxed on those services is to ignore the pervasive poverty on a reservation, but also it ignores the cultural significance of that expenditure.

I think that this is a great bipartisan effort. We hope that the IRS is starting to get it, but it is more important that we are not fighting this fight a year from now or two years from now and that we get some federal legislation that makes the intent of Congress clear in that it respects tribal sovereignty as it relates to their expenditure decisions.

One of the 2014 Champions for Change is your intern Danielle Finn.

She is a star! We are a little biased in that she is an intern in our office. She is going off to law school; she has tons of options. We are so proud of her and her family is so proud of her. We are just excited to see across the board that these champions for change are part of a hopeful program.

We see all of this wonderful opportunity for expansion of tribal leadership and it really makes us hopeful that there are so many people. I think we need to remember that there are some kids who are getting left behind. We need to celebrate these superstars and amazing kids, but we also need to know there are also very many students And young people who with the right set of circumstances could have equal achievement.

That motivates me as well. When you see these Champions For Change and think that it is not just them but there are probably hundreds of champions for change when given an opportunity.

We just need to keep that in mind and this is what my child’s commission bill is all about.



Controversial Video Set on Rez Depicts Drug Use, Violence and Sundance

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

A music video (below) for the tune “Alive,” by UK drum-n-bass artists Chase & Status and directed by Josh Cole is attracting attention in Indian country for its subject matter. The clip depicts young Natives living on a reservation who struggle with crack addiction and commit crimes to fund their habits. After an epiphany, the young man who is the main character of the video is seen in a sweat lodge and participating in a sundance ceremony.

Now, Cole is under fire from critics on Twitter who feel that the video exploits the usual media narrative about reservation life (“poverty porn,” as it’s sometimes been called) or cheapens the sundance ceremony by depicting it. Cole argues that the video was made with the consent and help of Blackfeet Natives on the rez in Browning, Montana, where it was filmed.

The video’s YouTube page includes a note expressing “thanks to the whole Blackfoot Nation and The Crazy Dogs Society for making us feel at home” as well as credits for the cast, which appears to consist largely (if not fully) of Native actors.



Breaking Bad or Already Broken? Drug Crime on the Rez Is All Too Real

By Walter Lamar, Indian Country Today Media Network

What does it say about safety in Indian country when a television plot featuring meth distribution incorporates tribal land? Breaking Bad might give Indian country the new name of “Broken and Bad” after the brutal television series, featuring tribal lands, exemplified a continuing public safety crisis. Season 5, Episode 13, entitled “To’hajiilee,” aired on September 8, 2013 and marks the beginning of the end for the wildly popular AMC series. It’s also one more example of how the media persistently depicts Indian country as the place to go to commit drug crimes, murder, and general mayhem.

From the very first episode, and periodically throughout the series, the remote To’hajiilee lands have been the setting for drug manufacture, murders, and concealing evidence. To’hajiilee is a non-contiguous section of the Navajo Nation lying in parts of three New Mexico counties, about 32 miles west of Albuquerque. Despite its proximity to an urban area, To’hajiilee feels isolated and remote. A tangle of secondary roads, many both unmarked and unpaved, crisscross the reservation’s 121 square miles. With only 2000 residents, you may go miles without seeing a soul. In “Breaking Bad,” the series of crimes committed on these tribal lands (theft, murder, extortion, drug manufacture and distribution, assault and much else), set the stage for what promises to be a violent and action-packed series finale.

To’hajiilee is not so different from tribal lands across the nation. All this got me to thinking, “What if the crime depicted in Episode 13 had really happened?” The To’hajiilee reservation is in trust status, which means concurrent federal and Navajo Nation criminal jurisdiction. Federal statute and Navajo Nation codes, ordinances and statutes govern the activities of visitors and residents. But wait, it’s not that easy. Indian Country is the only place in the world where jurisdiction is dependent on race. When a crime is committed within the exterior boundaries of the reservation, law enforcement has to determine if the perpetrator is American Indian, if the American Indian perpetrator is an enrolled tribal member of a federally recognized tribe, whether a tribal or federal statute is being violated, whether the land is indeed trust land, and whether officers responding to a crime are properly certified or deputized.

With that in mind, back to how the To’hajiilee showdown might play out in reality. White supremacists show up with fully automatic weapons (non-Natives to be sure), called by drug kingpin Walter White (another non-Native) when approached by two armed DEA agents and their informant. Everyone knows that $80 million in cash is buried in plastic barrels at the site. Predictably, the shooting starts. Some folks are wounded, some killed. Let’s say one of the wounded tries to make a panic-stricken call to 911. Too bad there’s not good cell phone coverage on the rez— he is out of luck. But wait, some distance away, a Navajo family hears the SUVs rumbling by, followed by a barrage of gunfire, and one heroically drives to a spot of known cell coverage and calls 911. The 911 call gets routed to a surrounding country dispatch, who places a telephone call to Navajo Police dispatch at Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Only about 300 officers patrol the Navajo Nation, which covers a territory larger than many US states. The tribal government has been active in stepping up law enforcement activity under the Tribal Law and Order Act, but cuts in funding have prevented the tribe from hiring anywhere close to the level they need- estimated to be about 800 officers.  A couple of officers are on duty at the To’hajiilee substation when the call comes in, and one of them responds by driving to meet the family who called.  They direct him toward the area where they heard the gunshots.

The brave officer approaches the scene and finds himself seriously outgunned. When fired upon, he retreats and finds that he doesn’t have radio coverage to call for help, so he drives until he gets a signal so he can communicate he has been fired upon and that there are multiple armed subjects. At best, there are two other Navajo Nation officers on duty at To’hajiilee and back up is 118 miles away in Crownpoint. Back at the substation, they call in to the FBI and the BIA, 32 miles away in Albuquerque. They think about calling in the State Patrol (“Wait, is there a cross-deputation agreement in place? Who could we ask?”). Then they realize, “Whoa, is the incident for certain on our land? Isn’t that near the boundary with Laguna Pueblo? Do we call them, too?”

Meanwhile, the white supremacists kill everybody, grab the money and head out. After no shooting for a period of time, the Navajo officer cautiously approaches the crime scene fraught with death and destruction, over an hour after gunshots are first heard. Later, the FBI and BIA arrive on scene. They realize two DEA agents are among the dead. The FBI and DEA immediately engage in a turf battle as to primary jurisdiction. BIA is caught in the middle and the tribal police are left out. Another twist comes when US Attorney’s office decides where and how survivors are going to be prosecuted, a result of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, a 1978 United States Supreme Court case wherein the court found that non-Indians are not subject to tribal jurisdiction.

Sure, television is fanciful, but it’s true that criminals have found that doing business in Indian country is profitable because of the remoteness, the lack of officers on patrol, and the jurisdictional tangles created by non-Indian crime on Indian land. Tribes struggle constantly with violent crime and drug trafficking committed by non-tribal members. Meth certainly is a problem on the Navajo Nation and elsewhere in Indian Country; Native Americans are more than twice as likely to abuse this terrible drug.

The effects of meth on people and the environment are truly horrific and would require another article to describe. Methamphetamine use affects the user’s physical health, mental health and emotional stability. The production creates toxic fumes and chemicals, as well as explosive gases, and abatement can require residential demolition. Children exposed to meth either in utero or in the home can develop neurological, cognitive, developmental and behavioral problems.

The Navajo Nation actually has a zero-tolerance policy toward methamphetamine sales, and in the past, the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety has successfully collaborated with the Drug & Gang Unit, the FBI, the BIA, the Flagstaff police and even the Phoenix police to investigate, arrest and prosecute meth distributors, resulting in entire rings being busted up.

There hasn’t been a high-profile arrest in years, but it’s not necessarily because there are fewer people manufacturing, smuggling or selling drugs on our tribal lands. Just as with tribes across the country, the Navajo Nation police, courts and corrections have been hit hard by the double whammy of planned budget cuts and an across-the-board sequester. The Navajo Nation Department of Corrections has completed two new jails, built as part of the TLOA promise, but the department faces a shortfall in completing the remaining five, or even staffing the new ones. Law enforcement is staffed at less than half of recommended levels. Criminal investigators routinely cover 600 or 700 miles a day to accomplish a single task. The 19 lawyers in the US Attorney’s office dedicated to prosecuting crime are too few to cope with the volume of cases, and end up declining to prosecute about half the time.

Everyone is frustrated by their inability to curb the violent drug crimes that are occurring in their jurisdictions. Officers at Fort Peck, another large reservation, know about drug smuggling from Canada, but often can’t respond in time when planes touch down on remote airstrips. Tribal law enforcement from New York to California know about gang or cartel members who seduce Native women, who protect them (and abet them) as they distribute drugs in the jurisdictional limbo of Indian Country.

How do cartels know that Indian country is the best place to commit crimes? To come around full circle, we can thank the media, from NPR to the New York Times, for sensationalist coverage about reservation crime. Breathless coverage of a Mexican drug trafficking organization on the Wind River Reservation, who exploited Native women to move meth, spurred copycat cases across the country. Evidence collected in one cartel bust actually yielded a Denver Post article discussing how hard it is for drug dealers to get busted in Indian country.

What can be done? The fact is that meth use is ever so slowly lessening its grip on our people, and part of the change is coming from community members. Events like Meth éí Dooda Awareness Day involve everyone in the community from small children to grandparents, and from people in recovery to representatives of the tribal government. In the case of tribal communities like To’hajiilee, outreach to citizens on the best information to give to 911 for a speedy response would also help. Community awareness is the first step in community policing, but there has to be actual policing as well, and that’s where the stumbling block remains.

To effectively police the lands under their jurisdiction, tribal police need resources, and they just don’t have them now. The Tribal Law and Order Act, if fully funded, would enable tribal police departments to patrol remote territory, to negotiate shared resources with state and county agencies, to engage in outreach to endangered youth, and to staff tribal courts and tribal prosecutors’ offices. Congress is back in session this month and we need to put pressure on them to address this problem by fully funding TLOA.

This week, To’hajiilee made the news again as catastrophic flooding hit the Navajo Nation and took out a chunk of the Interstate through the To’hajiilee lands, in the midst of evacuations in many communities, and alarm about the dam failing. The Navajo first responders worked smoothly with each other and with state police and tribal agencies to rescue, evacuate, direct traffic and keep the dam from breaching. Our Native law enforcement officers have proved that they can meet the challenge of To’hajiilee’s real-life crisis. The question remains whether Congress can meet the challenge of keeping their promise to our tribal police.



DOJ report shows federal prosecutors tackling more criminal cases in Indian Country

The Bismarck Tribune, Tom Stromme/Associated Press - FILE--North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon speaks during a press conference in Bismarck, N.D., in this May 28, 2013 file photo.
The Bismarck Tribune, Tom Stromme/Associated Press – FILE–North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon speaks during a press conference in Bismarck, N.D., in this May 28, 2013 file photo.

Source: Washington Post, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — American Indian leaders who have criticized the federal government for years over the way authorities handled major crimes on reservations can mark progress with the release of newly tracked statistics from the U.S. Justice Department.

The number of Indian Country cases charged in federal court has increased by 54 percent between fiscal years 2009 and 2012, from 1,091 cases to 1,677 cases, according to a DOJ report released Thursday.

“They’ve taken their responsibility much more seriously than before,” said Brent Leonhard, an attorney with Umatilla tribe in Oregon.

The report marks the first look at government investigations and prosecutions on tribal lands. It comes as a result of the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act, which requires the Justice Department to publicly release such figures.

Justice officials acknowledge that their work is far from done, but they say the numbers demonstrate the government’s commitment to combating violent crime on reservations where rates are higher than the national average.

Also, the report shows that prosecutors secured convictions in about two-thirds of nearly 6,000 reservation cases between calendar years 2011 and 2012. Of the 5,985 cases, about one-third were declined for prosecution.

Some others were resolved administratively or sent to another prosecuting authority and didn’t end up in federal court.

The numbers show “that we’re walking the talk at the Department of Justice,” said Tim Purdon, U.S. attorney in North Dakota.

Arizona, home to part of the nation’s largest American Indian reservation, had the highest number of total referrals with more than 2,000, followed by South Dakota with nearly 1,000 and Montana with more than 500.

Purdon leads a subcommittee that reports to Attorney General Eric Holder on American Indian issues. He said federal officials “want to improve public safety” and added that they are working to “remove those most dangerous predators, the most dangerous criminals from Indian Country.”

The federal government and tribes have concurrent jurisdiction in crimes where the suspect and victim are both American Indian, but federal prosecutions carry much stiffer penalties. Among recent U.S. government prosecutions:

— A man was found guilty of sexually abusing a teenager he met while working as a counselor at a summer camp on the Rocky Boy’s reservation in Montana. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

— A woman on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota was convicted of beating her 4-year-old son with a plastic clothes hanger. She was sentenced to seven years in prison.

— A man was sent to prison for 10 years for kicking the woman who was pregnant with his child on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. The unborn child died after suffering a skull fracture and other injuries.

Still, nearly 2,000 cases were declined for prosecution over the two-year span, a matter for which the DOJ has been criticized in the past.

“There are cases that are legitimately declined, and that is appropriate and expected,” said Leonhard, of the Umatilla tribe’s Office of Legal Counsel.