Blackfeet Nation Enters Into Cross-Border Law Enforcement Pact

The Blackfeet Nation has entered into a ground-breaking agreement with neighboring Glacier County for fully reciprocal cross-deputization, a law enforcement pact that both parties called unprecedented. "This is truly a historic document," Tribal Attorney Sandra Watts told the Blackfeet Business Council. "It goes beyond anything else in the nation. In the past, there have been one-way agreements, but nothing that's truly reciprocal."

The agreement formalizes a working agreement that's been in effect for the past month, but it's also limited to the next 60 days as a trial period. "When their deputies come onto our reservation, they become officers of the Tribe and they can enforce both the tribal and state laws," Watts told the council. "And when our Tribal police officers are off the reservation in Glacier County, they can enforce state laws."

Previously, county deputies had been issued commission cards from the Tribe allowing them to enforce state law on non-Indians living on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but those cards were revoked last year. That left deputies unable to arrest non-Natives living on the reservations who committed crimes or who had warrants against them in state courts. The major difference is that race is a factor on the reservation — Native Americans are issued warrants for Tribal Court, while non-Natives are issued warrants for magistrate court or district court . Off the reservations, all warrants are for magistrate or district court.

Gonzaga University Launches Native American Law Program

Gonzaga Law School (

Under the leadership of Professor Jay Kanassatega, a new Federal Indian Law Program has been created at Gonzaga University's law school. The program is designed to foster the development of both future attorneys and Native governmental leaders. For law students, the program will provide intensive instruction and practical experience in legal matters affecting Native communities. For Tribal governments, the program focuses on analysis and development of effective policies and their interaction with the national political system. The new Federal Indian Law Clinic, created in partnership with the Kalispel Tribe, offers Gonzaga students the opportunity to handle active legal matters in Tribal and state courts. The program’s next goal is the creation of the Institute for Development of Economic Policy for Indigenous People, which will focus on furthering economic self-reliance for Native people. The program will also be partnering with private law firms and other entities to take on federal cases of national import to Tribes and their members.

Professor Kanassatega comes to Gonzaga from private practice with the firm of Leonard, Street and Deinard in Minneapolis, where he focused on complex commercial litigation on behalf of Tribes and commercial entities. He previously served as the first Solicitor General of the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and was instrumental in helping the Band design, draft legislation, and implement the first separation-of-powers Indian government in Minnesota, including the Band's first court system. Prior to serving as Solicitor General, he served the Band as its Commissioner of Judicial Affairs, administered its Office of Management and Budget and served as its Economic Development Planner.

Associate Professor George Critchlow summed up the impetus behind the University’s new program. “Here at the law school we’ve been aware that we’re surrounded by tribes. It seemed to us this was a logical place to have an Indian law program and to put more emphasis on training students, both Native as well as non-Native, about the legal needs of the tribes and individual Natives to equip them with not only theoretical knowledge, but some of the skills and cultural information that would be useful in terms of being effective lawyers in representing Indian interests.”