Tribes say 'hard to erase history' as South Dakota's governor asks for law enforcement pact
The Associated Press
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem is asking the nine Native American tribes in South Dakota to enter into law enforcement agreements with the state to better tackle crime and meth on reservations.
The Republican governor on Thursday commended tribes for addressing problems with meth addiction and said the state wants to help tribes that don't have sufficient tribal police officers to counteract crime and drug addiction. But tribal leaders said the governor would have to overcome a history of trauma and strains in their relationship over the governor's revival of "riot boosting" laws this year.
"This will be a new kind of partnership that I would like to see every single tribe engage in," Noem told reporters on Thursday.
The agreements would respect tribal sovereignty while promoting cooperation between state law enforcement and tribal police officers, Noem said. State police may be allowed to act on tribal lands as part of the agreements, but would follow tribal laws. The agreements would be flexible, only applying for a certain length of time or particular type of law enforcement, she said.
The state already has an agreement with the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe that allows Highway Patrol officers to conduct traffic enforcement on highways running through tribal land. State police officers also help with security during the tribe's annual powwow, but can only enforce tribal laws.
Lester Thompson, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, said the tribe entered into the agreement after overweight semitrailers started tearing up tribal highways. He also had concerns about people being trafficked through tribal land.
Thompson said the agreement has worked so far, but he would be cautious about expanding it to allow state law enforcement onto more tribal land.
"You have a people who have had a historically traumatic experience with state law enforcement and its hard to erase that history," said Thompson. "You have to build that trust again."
Thompson said Noem's push this year to revive "riot boosting" laws ahead of the planned construction of the Keystone XL pipeline strains the state's relationship with the tribes. The laws target people who urge or incite violence, but Native American groups have said it would also silence protesters. Five tribes have voiced opposition to the proposal.
Noem said while they may disagree on that issue, "that doesn't mean that on every other issue that we can't continue to work together."
The governor met with representatives from some of the tribes before the session began to discuss pending legislation and issues facing the tribes. At the Great Sioux Nation Address in January, tribal leaders said meth addiction is one of the biggest threats to their communities.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe partnered with Noem's office last year to explore how to address increasing rates of meth addiction among tribal members. Rodney Bordeaux, the tribe's president, said he could use 20 more officers to address meth trafficking. The tribe is working with sheriffs from surrounding counties and will consider working with state police if that goes well.
Jason Cooke, vice chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, called the tribe's land a "checkerboard reservation" where people can travel between tribal and state land just by crossing the street. He said this allows drug dealers to evade law enforcement at times.
"We've got to do something ... so we can get it off the reservation," Cooke said.
But the tribe is still split on whether to give state police jurisdiction on tribal land. The tribal council would have to approve an agreement with the state.
Dave Flute, the governor's Secretary of Tribal Relations said Noem's offer represents a chance for "a new narrative moving forward that we do trust each other."