North Dakota Representatives passed House Bill 1126 with an overwhelming majority, a first step toward statewide mutual aid agreements between state and tribal law enforcement.
In the meantime, the citizens of Standing Rock pushed through a resolution of their own. They say the worry is that this first step will spiral into lost sovereignty in the years to come.
“I believe it’s a lot too soon for that,” said Cannonball District Rep. John Pretty Bear of the Standing Rock Tribal Council, referring to potential mutual aid agreements with the state.
To make sure nothing is passed without the will of the people, Standing Rock citizens teamed up and wrote a resolution. It was passed by Tribal Council and signed into law the first week of February. It says there has to be a majority vote by tribal citizens in order for Chairman Mike Faith to sign an agreement that would give any state agencies criminal jurisdiction on the reservation.
“This is not really in opposition toward the bill. It’s more or less in a response to the bill,” shared Pretty Bear.
He is referring to House Bill 1126, which does not change or add jurisdiction for anyone. What it would do is allow, but not require, tribal officers to assist on calls to state agencies.
“The next trooper could be over an hour away, but there will be a tribal officer that might be ten minutes away and they can come and be the backup officer to a situation that’s occurring, or pursuits that happen almost every day,” explained North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Jenna Clawson Huibregtse.
She is also the agency’s Cultural Liaison Officer.
“Last year, just with our agency they over doubled in fact,” Sgt. Clawson Huibregtse added.
She played a big role in drafting the bill and says it would remove any liability associated with tribal officers keeping a situation under control until Highway Patrol arrives. She says because it does not give any extra arrest authority to the state or tribes, tribal chairmen wouldn’t necessarily need to sign it. A referendum vote of the people wouldn’t be required either.
“In true government to government, that should not happen that way,” Pretty Bear responded.
“One of the things that comes along with this house bill is it’s a give and take,” he added when asked what his biggest concerns are about HB 1126, if any.
“You know, you’re asking for assistance, but what is it that you want out of it?”
After hundreds were arrested during the Dakota Access pipeline protests five years ago, many tribal citizens in Standing Rock are left hesitant about agreements beyond the bill.
“There will be public meetings for people to come to. There will be notices sent out in county courthouses and newspapers,” Sgt. Clawson Huibregtse said in reference to the process that is required ahead of future agreements.
I asked how tribal citizens would find out without potentially having to travel to a courthouse or see a non-tribal newspaper.
“There’s actually state law that requires how those are posted,” which includes tribal administration buildings, she explained.
“And then we will be having conversations with each Tribal Nation, how the message is best sent out.”
Pretty Bear says Standing Rock is not ready to allow the state any added jurisdiction.
“Only time can tell if any of those agreements are going to happen, but right now I don’t foresee it in the near future. I know we will work closely with the state,” he concluded.
“Our jurisdiction is our jurisdiction and that’s how it’s going to stay.”
Pretty Bear adds that because of this resolution, any attempt by state lawmakers to affect jurisdiction on tribal lands, not just with law enforcement, will have to be approved by the citizens of Standing Rock first.
House Bill 1126 is now in the hands of the Senate.