Interior secretary vows solution to Indian crimeAs the Obama administration sets out its agenda, tribes are wondering how the White House will handle the high crime rate on many of the nation’s American Indian reservations.
By: By Carson Walker, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — As the Obama administration sets out its agenda, tribes are wondering how the White House will handle the high crime rate on many of the nation’s American Indian reservations.
New Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says quelling lawlessness is among his top priorities and that he hopes to have a plan in place by year’s end.
“This is a pressing enough issue that it is one of those first-tier issues for us,” Salazar said during a recent interview.
“We know the problems that are out there. We know the levels of violence and crime that we’re seeing in reservations all across the country.”
Salazar said the first task is a review of the law enforcement situation and a determination of what resources are available. Then Interior will collaborate with other agencies to develop a plan, he said.
“I think it will involve the Department of Justice, it will involve tribal authorities, but we’re not there yet,” Salazar said.
“It’s a problem crying out for a solution.”
In June, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent in extra officers to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles North Dakota and South Dakota. Arrests shot up to 700 in the first month and dropped to 300 in the second month, and people generally felt safer.
The BIA is reducing the number of officers at Standing Rock to 13 — which is four more than before the surge, said a spokesman for North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and a member of the Interior appropriations subcommittee.
In August, about two dozen extra BIA officers temporarily rotated duty on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota when 30 tribal officers resigned or were fired after a confrontation between some tribal executive board members and the police department.
It also prompted the BIA to start an evaluation of whether the Oglala Sioux Tribe should continue running its own police department or if the federal agency should take it over.
Dorgan is working with tribal leaders on a draft of the Tribal Law and Order Act and plans to introduce a final bill in the coming weeks.
It seeks to give more local control to tribal law enforcement agencies and make federal agencies more accountable for legal and treaty commitments to law enforcement on Indian Country.
“It’s been ignored for too long and the result is a lot of people living in a culture of violence and losing their lives,” Dorgan said.
“There’s an urgency here. We’ve talked about the health care crisis on reservation, but when you’ve got a crime rate of five or six times the national average on some reservations, that’s a crisis.”
The act does not include any funding. But the federal economic recovery package included $225 million for Indian jails and money for Justice grant programs, his office said.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a co-sponsor of the tribal act, tried earlier this month to get $400 million from a spending bill for law enforcement, health care and development efforts on Indian Country, but the amendment failed.
“It would have directed a lot of money at what we’re talking about here,” he said.
The success of the surges on Standing Rock and Pine Ridge show that added funding has a direct impact on reservation safety, Thune said.
“We can’t do anything else before we address that issue,” he said.
On the Net:
Draft of Tribal Law and Order Act: http://www. indian.senate.gov/public/—files/DraftTribal LawandOrderActof2009.