Editorial board: On reservations, justice still needs work

2014-02-26T05:00:00Z Editorial board: On reservations, justice still needs workStar-Tribune editorial board Casper Star-Tribune Online
February 26, 2014 5:00 am  • 

Justice at a distance may very well be justice denied.

That's why it's important to recognize and study the recent work done by the Tribal Law and Order Commission, mandated by federal law to study justice on the reservation and come up with policy suggestions. The commission has spent the last two years working on a report -- a roadmap -- for policymakers about law and order on reservations across the U.S. 

Their findings and suggestions should form the framework of how Wyoming, among other states, moves forward with tribal law enforcement to make this place a safer, more just place to live.

The commission was critical of how federal and state justice systems work (or don't) with native law enforcement. It found that those on the reservation face a jurisdiction maze that often circumvents tribal justice, even when the local system has the capacity and ability to handle great responsibility. It's not always that the federal and state systems maliciously circumvent tribal justice. But trust in reservation law enforcement and courts must be built hand in hand with their capacity to enforce the law.

In Wyoming, a state whose citizens generally espouse local control and power, it's much the same. The Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho tribes both have facilities to deal with misdemeanors and petty crimes. But with no federal courts close by, serious crimes must be dealt with in Casper or Cheyenne, 120 and 300 miles from the Wind River Indian Reservation, respectively. The situation makes for a non-diverse jury pool and poses logistical difficulties for tribal members who want a fair trial. For more than half the year, it's a good bet a route to Cheyenne from Riverton will be closed at some point just due to weather.

The Tribal Law and Order Commission's work fills an important gap and provides some critical suggestions. It won't be an easy task to reform how things are done. The jurisdictional maze has its roots in a hodgepodge of laws that sometimes work at cross purposes and date back to the 1800s.

We hope both state and federal policymakers take the issue seriously and take the lead on making things better. There's lots of work to do. 

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. Hill Town Trader
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    Hill Town Trader - February 27, 2014 7:36 pm
    The failed and very confusing justice system is another example of an outmoded paternalistic federal reservation system. The time for reservations is past.

    Deed the Federally controlled trust lands over to the tribes separately, disband the reservation and allow Native American stand tall as equal Americans.
  2. goppoke
    Report Abuse
    goppoke - February 27, 2014 1:04 pm
    Playing the sovereignty card has only lead to these jurisdictional issues and to lots of litigation. Defending sovereignty has helped no one except those that run for Tribal Council. What is best for all Americans that reside within the exterior boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation takes a second seat to the sovereignty issue.
  3. Tribal Member
    Report Abuse
    Tribal Member - February 27, 2014 10:36 am
    What about those of us tribal members who are denied access to the tribal court simply because those in control have a personal problem? This is the case on the Crow Creek Reservation in Fort Thompson, South Dakota. I am 67 years old and I was the victim of three unprovoked attacks last year by three different young men who were at least 20-30 years younger than I. One threatened to kill me, shoot my horses and burn my house down. The other incident involved a young man coming onto my property, pushing me around and threatened to "kick my a$$". I signed a complaint on both of them each time but in the first instance I also filed a restraining order which was returned to me in the mail a couple of days later along with my $35 filing fee and no other explaination from the clerk of courts. In the second case I filed an assault charge on the young man and the tribal prosecutor would not prosecute. When I asked him the reason he said that the security camera photos I gave him of the assault could have been altered and wouldn't stand up in court. There were also two men who witnessed that incident who were willing to testify about the assault. The third incident involves a civil case in which my deceased mother's house was illegally occupied by several relatives who drank and partied in it for over a year after her death. They completely ruined her house by knocking holes in the walls, ceiling and broke out many of the windows. It was a filthy mess and when they were finally evicted they stole almost all of the furniture and appliances. I tried to get this civil case into court but the tribal judge would not hear it and he told me and my wife he never wanted to see me in his court again. I contacted an attorney who advised me to wait until this judge moved on. As far as I can tell we don't have an Appeals Court so what is a person supposed to do? What ever happened to equal access and protection under the law?
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