In my last article (Vol. 23, Iss. 49), I asked the question, "Who's next?"
to receive overly aggressive police state tactics in the name of law
enforcement. Well, we now know the answer; it is the Coyote Valley Band of
Pomo Indians Rancheria in California.
The Inyo County atrocity has happened again, right before the national
holiday dedicated to remembering the soldiers who have fallen while
fighting to retain the freedom of this country and when our people honor
the Indian men and women now serving in combat zones around the world in
disproportionate numbers in comparison to our representation in the overall
population. We honor these gallant men and women because we, as Indian
people, believe in the cause of freedom and the promises made to us.
Promises guaranteed not only in Indian treaties, but also in the United
States Constitution. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure is one of
the fundamental rights granted citizens in the Bill of Rights. Yet the
current attitude of federal, state and local governments of this country,
emboldened by the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, seems to be that
Indians have no rights with regard to the protections found in the U.S.
In the early morning hours of May 25 nearly 100 federal, state and local
police, in storm trooper fashion, converged on the Coyote Valley Rancheria
near Ukiah, Calif. Under the guise of executing federal search warrants
authorizing the seizure of casino records and computers, law enforcement
agents stormed the offices and homes of tribal leaders and their families.
In doing so the agents, with guns drawn, held tribal members, their
families and other innocent bystanders handcuffed for several hours with no
ability to leave or have access to adequate food and water. Were these
detainees so violent that police were afraid for their own personal safety?
No. In fact not one bit of resistance or lack of cooperation by the tribal
members or others who were detained occurred. Certainly if it had, it would
have been reported. Several of the "desperados" who were detained by the
agents were no more than 6 years old. In fact, at one home some of the
"really scary" detainees were all of 2 and 4 years old, another was an
80-year-old tribal elder and grandmother. All of the detainees, including
the children, were forced to have their mug shots taken while holding
We have, in recent months, seen a proliferation of Gestapo-like tactics
used when the state has to deal with an Indian tribe. From the Rhode Island
police raid on a tribal smoke shop, to the closing of the Wyandotte casino
in Kansas City, jackbooted thugs have no problem in coming in, waving their
guns in innocent people's faces, detaining people unjustly, and in short,
acting like the secret police of the old communist countries.
In this case, in a development that should be alarming to Indian country,
the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Department of Interior Inspector
General and the U.S. Attorney capitulated their primary, and supposedly
exclusive, jurisdiction to the state of California Department of Justice,
Division of Gambling Control. The state provided the affidavit which was
used as a basis for the search, seized the items and gave the tribal
leaders receipts for the search on state forms. City and County law
enforcement agents also participated in the raid - which was purportedly an
operation of the Department of Interior.
It seems our trustee, the United States, has decided that through secret
joint jurisdictional agreements with the states, it is going to totally
capitulate their exclusive federal jurisdiction under the Indian Gaming
Regulatory Act to state law enforcement agencies. In the process the state
was allowed to violate with impunity the provisions of the tribal-state
gaming compacts requiring that tribal representatives must be allowed to
accompany them on inspections and searches pertaining to the gaming
operations on Indian lands. Any subterfuge of this requirement under the
guise of assisting federal law enforcement under some joint jurisdictional
agreement, to which the tribes are not a party, should not be acceptable.
The feds had jurisdiction to conduct the search and it was a violation of
IGRA and the tribal state compact for them to allow the state to take the
lead without any regard to the requirements the state agreed to in the
Across America we are seeing violations of civil rights across the board.
It isn't just American Indians who are in jeopardy of being unlawfully
detained and unreasonably searched. If we tolerate this then eventually all
of us can anticipate that we will awaken to guns and police dogs charging
into our children's bedrooms and putting our children through the trauma of
watching parents and grandmothers cuffed and forced to sit for hours while
our home is ransacked. For the federal government to allow state law
enforcement to carry out such a violent search for "documents" in this
fashion is inviting disaster. Eventually someone will resist and someone
will be killed.
The public, and our United States Congress, seems to be of the mind that
the government is only going after bad guys who must have done something
wrong or they wouldn't be in trouble. But, it doesn't matter if a person is
guilty or not. The Bill of Rights gives us certain guarantees from things
like unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, "unreasonable" search and seizure
and it also gives us the right to an attorney, etc. At Coyote Valley on May
25, most of these rights went by the wayside in this state law enforcement
led search for "documents." Not a search for drugs or weapons mind you, but
harmless documents. You want to be concerned about the searches and
interrogations that are going on in Iraq. Look closer to home my relatives.
In the words of Reverend Martin Niemoller, "First they came for communists,
and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for
Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for
Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came
for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me."
If we all stay silent when we witness the violation of someone's rights,
who do we think will be there when our own rights are violated? Right now,
Indian country is witnessing the violation of personal rights, as well as
the violation of tribal sovereignty, by federal, state and local
governments. It may not be happening to you or to me, it may not be
happening to my tribe or your tribe, but it is happening. How long are we
going to stand idle as silent witnesses doing nothing? How long will our
senators and congressman stand by while the confrontations build? Until
someone dies? I hope not.
Harold A. Monteau is a partner in the national Indian law firm of Monteau &
Peebles and is the former chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission
during the Clinton administration. The firm represents tribes and tribal
business entities in the areas of federal recognition, finance, economic
development, taxation, tribal state relations and gaming with offices in
Washington D.C., Montana, California, Arizona, Nebraska and South Dakota.