Native American tribes converge to discuss pot legalization

Audience members look on at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn't stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Audience members look on at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn’t stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By The Associated Press

TULALIP, Wash. (AP) — Tribal representatives from around the country are converging in Washington state to discuss the risks and rewards of marijuana legalization.

Tribes have been wrestling with the issue since the U.S. Justice Department announced in December that it wouldn’t stand in their way if they want to approve pot for medical or recreational use. The agency said tribes must follow the same law enforcement priorities laid out for states that legalize the drug.

Representatives of dozens of tribes are attending a conference Friday at the Tulalip Indian Tribe’s resort and casino north of Seattle.

Topics under discussion include the big business potential for pot, as well as concerns about substance abuse on reservations and the potential creation of a tribal cannabis association.

Speakers, from right, Hilary Bricken, Douglas Berman, Salvador Mungia and Robert Odawi Porter bow their heads during an opening prayer at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn't stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Speakers, from right, Hilary Bricken, Douglas Berman, Salvador Mungia and Robert Odawi Porter bow their heads during an opening prayer at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn’t stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

 

 

Speakers Salvador Mungia, left, Robert Odawi Porter and Douglas Berman prepare to speak at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn't stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Speakers Salvador Mungia, left, Robert Odawi Porter and Douglas Berman prepare to speak at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn’t stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

 

Robert Odawi Porter speaks at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn't stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Robert Odawi Porter speaks at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn’t stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

 

Salvador Mungia speaks at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn't stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Salvador Mungia speaks at a tribal marijuana conference for tribal governments considering whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural, or recreational use, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Tulalip, Wash. Representatives of 75 American Indian tribes from 35 states gathered to discuss what might be the next big financial boon on reservations across the country: marijuana. Tribes have been exploring the idea of getting into the pot business since the Obama administration announced in December it wouldn’t stand in their way. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

 

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.