From the February 2010 Idaho Observer:

Indian Tribal Councils move to legally claim jurisdiction over non-Indians on reservations in Idaho (and elsewhere in the nation....)

In late January 2010, The Idaho Observer received a call alerting us to legislation that would be introduced to the House Judiciary Rules Committee in conjunction with leaders from Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation. The proposed “State and Indian Tribal Cooperative Law Enforcement Act” would give reservations arresting authority over non-tribal U.S. citizens on or passing through an Indian reservation. Having read much of Elaine Devary-Willman’s book Going to Pieces: The Dismantling of the United States of America and recalling the article Don Harkins wrote after reading the book and talking with the author on the phone numerous times, it became apparent that we needed to pay attention. (See The I.O. March 2006 “Going to pieces - Gambling Americans financing the destruction of their nation with bad bets at Indian casinos”.) While the following article is a summary of what is happening in Idaho, similar actions are happening in other states.


Currently, tribal jurisdiction is generally restricted to tribal members and specific areas of land that tribes or tribal members own in fee title or federal trust. The current “Tribal Sovereignty Initiative” lobbying effort will be an attempt to pass legislation allowing tribes unbridled, uncontested and complete power over all persons and activities taking place on Indian reservations, tribally owned property and areas outside their reservations that the tribes would define as having an “Indian character”. The most current name for this proposed legislation is “Tribal Governance and Economic Enhancement Initiative”. 

If this type of legislation is passed in your state, non-member (non-Indian) property owners will fall subject to tribal jurisdiction for most regulatory, civil and criminal matters. This would include, to name a few, building codes, land use zoning, hunting and fishing regulations, traffic enforcement, property taxation and many more. In most states, this type of legislation might bring non-Indians, running afoul of tribal laws, into tribal court for criminal proceedings. Non-Indians facing such a dilemma might be shocked to find that most tribes are not bound by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Legal rights you thought you had may be worthless in tribal court. Non-Indians would, as usual, be denied the right to vote in the elections of the very tribal government that is so eager to have jurisdiction over them. Many non-member residents of Indian reservation would then become “resident aliens” within tribal territories.

Indian tribal governments are greatly subsidized by the federal government. Tribes receive funding and grants for literally hundreds of federal and state programs. For example, the federal government provides tribes with grants and funds to administer environmental programs of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tribal health care is provided by the federal Indian Health Service. If it were not for the support of the U.S. federal government, most of the 567 federally recognized Indian tribal governments would financially collapse.

On November 5, 2009, while the nation was focused on the Fort Hood, Texas shooting incident, Barack Obama was giving a speech at the opening of the Tribal Nations Conference. In his speech Obama mentions vast increases in spending for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service plus $300 billion from the Recovery Act for rebuilding and renovating schools. Obama’s pandering to the tribal lobbyists during an economic crisis has many Americans on guard and rightfully concerned as tribal leaders make more jurisdictional demands over highways and U.S. citizens traversing reservations.

On February 9, Idaho HB 500, an Act relating to jurisdiction in Indian country, was introduced as predicted. By this time the entire state was on alert and every legislator on both the Senate and House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committees had been called, faxed and emailed to warn them that the proposed legislation would be in violation of the Idaho State Constitution. Douglas Paul Payne, Benewah County Prosecuting Attorney, wrote in a letter to his fellow Idahoan prosecuting attorneys the following warning about HB 500:

  1. These new officers would not be under the authority of the state police, local sheriff or be accountable through any chain of command to any publicly elected official. This would violate Art. IV sec. 20 of the Idaho Constitution requiring that all “functions and powers” of state government be allocated within its departments; 

  2. This act would violate art. XVIII sec. 6 by creating defacto sheriff’s deputies without the sheriff’s authority;

  3. The act would effectively replace the sheriff as the primary law enforcement officer in parts of Idaho contrary to I.C.31-2202 and 2227;

  4. The act would create state police officers not under the authority of the director of the Department of Law Enforcement in violation of I.C. 67-2901;

  5. The act would deprive non-tribal Idaho citizens of their right to the representative government guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and by  art. I sec.2 and 19, and by art. XVIII sec.6 of the Idaho Constitution. 

  6. Law enforcement officers exercise great discretion and implement their department’s policies on many issues and during constant contact with the public. It is an important part of representative government that the police are themselves policed not only by the courts, but by a chain of command that ultimately ends with an elected official who answers to the people governed. Idaho law and history reflect a pattern of always insuring police officers are not outside this accountability. In addition to the above authorities, see I.C. 18-711 and the Idaho Constitution, art. XIV sec.6.

The proposed Act came about as a result of problems in Benewah county where there was once a cross-deputization agreement between the Sheriff and the Coeur d’Alene tribe. This agreement has since been terminated. According to Betsy Z. Russell’s blog post of Feb. 4 ( , Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts is dismissing an open letter to lawmakers from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations about law-enforcement problems in Benewah County, signed by task force vice president Christie Wood, saying, “My only comment is she’s ill-informed or she’s just plain lying or stupid…I’m not really concerned about it - I represent the people of Benewah County, this is what they want so that’s what we’re going to do.” Wood is a Coeur d’Alene police sergeant, department spokeswoman, a former Coeur d’Alene school trustee and current chair of the North Idaho College board of trustees. Kirts, who’s been Benewah sheriff for five years, is a former state trooper and also served as Benewah sheriff from 1980 to 1988, at which time the county did have cross-deputization with the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Police. “That was canceled because they started to violate people’s rights by citing non-tribal members into tribal courts and that type of thing,” Kirts said. “I think it was terminated in 2007; at that time I left them the rights to arrest DUIs or handle emergencies, and they chose not to do that at all, all they do is complain about not being able to do anything.” He added, “It’s a law thing, it’s not human relations. I don’t know what …Christie’s talking about.”

According to Jim Huntley in his February 12 “Jim’s Corner” in the Central Idaho Post: Idaho State Senator Mike Jorgenson and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations are supporters of the proposed Act, while many Idaho sheriffs and ordinary citizens are against passage of the legislation. This fight has turned ugly in the past week with some persons questioning Jorgenson’s loyalty to the average Idaho citizen. Some have insinuated that Jorgenson enjoys the financial gains of a casino rich tribe, and sunshine law loopholes that allow Idaho politicians to not declare funds received from Indian tribes.

Jim notes that Idaho County has a good working relationship with the Nez Pearce tribal police so he decided to compare crime rates and arrests rates for 2004-2008 between the two counties. What he found was that their statistics were nearly identical. He felt it was important to find out what was really going on after The Lewiston Tribune published a story Feb. 5 claiming that 90 non-Indian crimes occur on reservations each month that are not prosecuted by the county sheriff. What he discovered was that the facts don’t match up with the allegations of supporters of HB 500.

It is interesting to note that HB 500 was printed without having a sponsor. It appears that there is enough heat on this proposed Act to frighten any legislator from personally sponsoring it. What is most important here is to keep vigilant in protecting our rights as Idaho citizens, continuing to contact our legislators over any proposed legislation that would threaten our constitutionally protected rights.

For more information on federal Indian policy and the issues our states are facing, go to the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) website Their mission statement: Federal Indian Policy is unaccountable, destructive, racist and unconstitutional. It is therefore CERA’s mission to ensure the equal protection of the law as guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of the United States of America. (See p. 3 for information on their March 7-8 annual conference.)

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