Tribal Government & News

U.S. Attorneys meet with Tribal leaders

CELILO VILLAGE -- The four Columbia River Tribes hosted a Government-to-Government consultation with U.S. Attorneys at the Celilo Village longhouse on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
 "It is especially fitting that these important discussions take place at Celilo Village, once the location of Celilo Falls, where Native settlements and trading villages existed in various configurations for 15,000 years," said Amanda Marshall, U.S. Attorney for Oregon.
A project of the U.S. Attorney General's Native American Issues Subcommittee, some 25 Tribal representatives from across the Northwest and 30 U.S. Attorneys from across the country attended.
Tribal representatives let the federal attorneys know what has worked and what still needs improvement in Tribal law enforcement.
For the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, the issue of top importance is reauthorization of Oregon Senate Bill 412, which allowed the Tribe to hire police officers to protect the Grand Ronde community and to arrest nonNatives who commit crimes against Tribal members in the Grand Ronde area.
It was signed into law in 2011 and is scheduled to sunset in 2015.
"Without a doubt, SB 412 has allowed the Tribe to make substantial strides in its law enforcement efforts, and SB 412 peace officer status is a critical tool for its Grand Ronde Police Department officers," said Tribal Chair Reyn Leno in a letter to the conference.
The Tribe is seeking federal support for reauthorization by the Oregon Legislature.
Tribal Vice Chair Jack Giffen Jr. represented the Tribe in person.
"I thought it was pretty historic that so many high level, decision-making officials from Washington, D.C. came out for the Northwest Tribes," Giffen said.
Other issues the Attorneys raised during the day included their support for Tribal sovereignty through efforts to facilitate the implementation of both the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 and the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010.
Attorneys also spoke of their efforts to address offender re-entry, white collar crime and juvenile justice, including the effects of exposure to violence on American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The Attorneys also defend Indian hunting and fishing rights.
Panels with U.S. Attorneys and other law enforcement specialists ended the day with reports on still other crime issues of importance to Northwest Tribes.
Tribal law enforcement officers reported progress in the battle against gangs. Since 2009, according to a Justice Department report, U.S. Attorneys with Indian Country jurisdiction have seen a 54 percent increase in Indian Country criminal prosecutions.
At the same time, Nancy Seyler, program manager for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said that the Warm Springs people are "terrorized by gangs."
Another session focused on the jurisdictional confusion that has bedeviled Oregon and Washington officials over who has jurisdiction when a law enforcement issue comes up on the Columbia River.
The effort to solve this problem stems from a celebrated case where members of the Yakama Tribe drowned in the Columbia, but remained in a canoe for hours while officials worked out the jurisdictional questions.
The daylong conference highlighted successful collaborations between U.S. Attorneys and Tribes, including ongoing operations that are bringing down gang members and improving relationships between U.S. Attorneys and Tribes.
Still, the biggest problems are gangs and drugs, said federal Investigator Detective Sam Williams. U.S. Attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have seen the best cooperation in 20 years, he said. And community members are reporting crimes to police more often.
 "Much thanks for the U.S. Attorneys and passage of certain critical laws," said Suquamish Tribal Councilman Rit Bellis. "Some of it is the money problem, but it also requires communicating together, working through local Tribes."
"We view ourselves as having a trust responsibility and working with the Tribes, federal partners and state agencies to ensure healthy salmon runs and equal opportunities for Tribal fisheries to thrive in the protection of salmon species," said Marshall.
These programs have helped Tribes along the Columbia River improve fishing habitat to the point where 700,000 fall Chinook salmon have been counted at Bonneville Dam this year. Compared with the 10-year average of less than 250,000, this was the biggest year ever for fall Chinook.
"This is the most optimistic and hopeful thing happening in Indian Country," said Marshall. "You've been able to restore the salmon."
"The Tribes taught us about looking seven generations into the future," said Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington state, "but it's incredible how much one generation can accomplish."
Tribal leaders also sought help with environmental disasters happening on or near Tribal lands, including coal shipments and contamination from the Hanford nuclear site.
Lummi Nation Chief of Police Ronald Tso said the oyster beds that members of the Tribe have harvested for generations are dying because of acidic water.
"We speak from our heart," said Virgil Lewis, Yakama Tribal Councilman, "and hope you listen with your heart."
"Our commitment to you is that we are listening," said Durkan.