Concerns and hope arise over agreements between tribal and state law enforcement

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Lawmakers took a step toward a mutual aid agreement between state and tribal law enforcement.

Although North Dakota Representatives passed House Bill 1126 by a vote of 82-10, some tribal citizens say they’re not on the same page.

We sat down with a couple of tribal elders and other citizens in the Turtle Mountains about state and tribal collaboration in law enforcement, and they’re very hesitant. In the past, they’ve seen “selective law enforcement and racial profiling” from state officers.

“The state officers know when our check days are here. They low road the boundaries of our reservation,” shared Tom Davis (Oshkiipiness), a Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa elder.

“Without a thought, they take money off of a table that feeds a child and puts it in their state coffers over there.”

On Tribal lands, there is protection for enrolled members against this. By law, state police can’t arrest or cite Native people on their sovereign land.

Although some existing agreements between state and tribal police give state officers this ability, House Bill 1126 would not.

“It didn’t just come out of thin air. It also came from hearing those stories from tribal police officers,” said Trooper Jenna Clawson Huibregtse with the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

She is the Cultural Liaison Officer for the Highway Patrol and was instrumental in drafting this bill.

In sum, it would give tribal law enforcement the ability to be dispatched to assist state agencies immediately.

“They cannot enforce state law. They’re not allowed to make arrests for state offenses, this is purely just for mutual aid,” she explained.

It’s where this could be heading that concerns several tribal citizens.

“I worked with the legislative people for 20-something years in this state, litigating and negotiating with them. They do not spend money, time or effort without a solution that is beneficial to them. They are not a good friend to us, and they don’t need to be developing no bills on our behalf until they ask our people, they’re not, not by law,” Davis shared.

The legislature can’t pass anything that gives state agencies any jurisdiction over tribal citizens. That has to come from an agreement with each tribal nation. An example of this is a mutual aid agreement in the works between highway patrol and MHA nation. Tribal Council approved it last week. Now it opens up for 30 days of public comment.

This is like the bill passed in the House Wednesday, but state officers can also respond, in reverse, to calls involving tribal citizens.

We raised concerns of diminished sovereignty and arrests of an uneven number of tribal citizens that shows in our jails and prisons.

“That’s completely understandable,” Clawson Huibregtse responded, adding, that’s why state nor tribal officers can arrest or actually cite outside their jurisdiction under these agreements.

She says she hopes the bill will serve as an olive branch by also giving tribal officers recognition as equally trained law enforcement under North Dakota century code.

Davis also mentioned that it’s tough for his people to even testify at the legislature or during that public comment period mentioned earlier. There’s the travel factor, but even this year with remote testimony possible, he says many are too nervous of repercussions.

He adds, tribal elders such as himself should be asked up front for input.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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