Insight from the inside: Discussing ‘Barriers to Justice’ with those directly impacted

Local News

A month ago, we reported on the systematic barriers to justice that exist for tribal citizens. We heard from tribal leaders and mostly, those looking from the outside in.

Now, we hear from the people on a visit to the Turtle Mountains.

We spoke with a tribal citizen and federal law enforcement agent, who says, the tribal government could lobby more for federal funding for the courts, to develop them so there is less reliance on, or need for, federal prosecution, which declines anywhere between 30 and nearly 60% of cases. That’s according to data from the DOJ, covering 2011-2018. The officer wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of his job.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa elder Tom Davis (Oshkiipiness) says beyond that, education needs work. Tribal citizens need to be taught their rights under a sovereign nation, and how to draft bills and testify before the legislature.

Further, Davis says all North Dakota students need to be taught a thorough history of Native culture. He added, the first barrier to justice is the lack of knowledge about Native American history and culture outside of tribal lands.

He has a few more ideas: “You want to help us? Help us find out a way to help us employ our people to our plan. Use your Department of Agriculture. Show us how to grow food to feed our people.”

Davis says this would be a huge step toward more tribal independence. He says, “As long as someone else is feeding you, you cannot be sovereign.”

“These ladies were sitting there talking, you know. They were saying, ‘Rolette County, if it wasn’t for those damn Indians, you know, Rolette County would have all this money. We wouldn’t be paying all these welfare checks and all that’,” shared Bernice Delorme, a lawyer, VP for the North Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, and a Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa citizen.

“And I said, ‘You know, before you guys got here, we ran this land. We ran this land, we had 0% unemployment. Everybody had a job to do. We didn’t have anybody dropping out of school, you know? We didn’t have anybody going hungry.'”

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