War On Drugs Opens New Front: Tribal Lands

Washington State Patrol Officers Seize Marijuana On Reservation

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mexican drug gangs are attempting to increase profits and eliminate clashes with border police by growing more marijuana inside the United States – and specifically in remote areas of Native American reservations. In Washington state alone, the number of marijuana plants seized on Tribal lands has increased by a factor of 10 since 2006.

Drug growers typically seek to operate in geographically remote areas that are rarely inspected by law enforcement. In past years, America’s large National Parks were a prime growing area until federal enforcement was stepped up to curtail the practice. Isolation and lack of law enforcement funding has now placed many Tribal territories on the list of desired drug growing locations. For example, the Colville Reservation in eastern Washington state encompasses 2,200 square miles but is patrolled by only 19 Tribal police officers. Many reservations have thousands of acres of uninhabited land that usually go unnoticed by local residents and police, making them desirable target areas for drug growers.

While the upswing in drug growing activity is a troubling development, efforts to counter the trend may also provide an opportunity to improve public safety on reservations. The chronic lack of state and federal funds for law enforcement on Tribal lands has long contributed to increased crime rates and a backlog of unresolved cases. Now that Native American reservations have become part of the front line of the war on drugs, perhaps increased resources will be applied to raise the standard and efficiency of law enforcement activity in Tribal territories.
 

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.