Editorial doesn’t expose consequences

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In response to the editorial [“Tribes, states must manage concurrent powers,” Vol. 28, Iss. 14] regarding the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians of California and the most recent tragedy regarding Riverside County law enforcement, it seems evident that the editor does not comprehend the devastating effect P.L. 280 has had on California tribal entities. The editorial falls short and is paternalistic at best.

Although the editorial seems to give the reader at least a scant overview of the history of P.L. 280, the article stops there when it comes to exposing the true reality of the effects of P.L. 280 and its harmful consequences on California tribal entities. The editor seems to want to give the impression that the blame for the recent incident at Soboba lies with its leadership and its failure to define more comprehensively concurrent jurisdiction and its effect on tribal criminal issues. The editorial completely negates the history of racism, use of excessive force and the continual disregard for the sovereignty of the Soboba Band’s leadership by state and county law enforcement officials. Such an attitude and editorial impression is completely misguided.

P.L. 280, passed in 1953, was an attempt by Congress to transfer the inherent sovereignty of tribes relating to civil and criminal jurisdiction to state governments. Those of us who have studied the history of federal Indian policy understand the devastation of the termination policies of 1950s, which included several federal legislative initiatives that were implemented with the explicit intention of destroying the inherent sovereignty of tribal governments.

Provisions of P.L. 280 mandate that certain states, including California, provide adequate, effective law enforcement protection for tribal members. Such law enforcement is not federally funded, nor are tribes required to fund such law enforcement protection for their communities. If California does not desire the additional financial burden of P.L. 280, then it should allow for the retrocession of P.L. 280 jurisdictional authority, which will then allow tribes to enforce exclusively their own criminal and civil codes.

The editorial fails to mention that since tribal gaming revenues began flowing, Riverside County, like other counties, has attempted and in many cases succeeded in extorting millions of dollars of funding from tribes in California under the guise of providing more effective law enforcement. Remember, however, P.L. 280 is mandated on certain states, such as California and funding of such increased jurisdiction is not required by tribal governments under the act.

Conversely, the federal government should fulfill its trust responsibility to tribes in California by increased funding of tribal law enforcement and judiciaries. Such a result will not only protect the tribe’s sovereignty, but as well assure that the welfare of tribal membership is adequately protected.

The answer and solution is grounded in the creation of tribal judiciaries, law enforcement and adequately drafted law and order codes. Only then can tribes within the state of California effectively protect the general welfare and political integrity of their tribes.


– Gary J. Montana

Attorney at Law

Montana & Associates

Member, Standing Rock

Sioux Tribe

Osseo, Wis.