White Earth Band of Chippewa Seek Retrocession of P.L. 280

In a bid to assert control over law enforcement in their lands, leaders of the White Earth Band of Chippewa are seeking retrocession from Public Law 280 and are writing a new criminal code to replace state law for members of the Band.

Crossing three counties in northwest Minnesota, the White Earth Reservation has been subject to the jurisdiction of multiple non-Tribal law enforcement agencies since Public Law 280 was enacted in 1953. Minnesota is one of six states where the federal government mandated compliance with P.L. 280 on nearly all reservations. Nationwide, an estimated 70 percent of American Indian tribal members are under P.L. 280.

White Earth is seeking retrocession of the authority of P.L. 280 on the reservation, a move that will require the consent of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and approval from the federal government. The Tribe currently has a police force and a Tribal Court, and White Earth attorney Joe Plummer has stated that the Tribe never surrendered its right to judicial independence. As a result, the Tribe intends to implement its new criminal code without waiting for federal approval. “The Council plans on enacting a Tribal Criminal Code that’s been in development for two years now,” Plummer said. “Once that’s done, the officers will enforce it and individuals will be prosecuted through the Tribal Court.”

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