Sunday, June 4, 2023

US has treaty duty to fund policing on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, judge rules

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A federal judge has ruled that the US government has a treaty obligation to support law enforcement on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, but has declined to determine for now whether the Oglala Sioux The tribe is entitled to the amount of money it is asking for.

Tribal leaders characterized the decision as a victory, saying that the important point is that the court affirmed that the federal government has a duty to fund policing on the reservation and that US officials are not allowed to meet with Oglala Sioux leaders. ordered “to work together immediately to figure out how to more fairly fund tribal law enforcement.”

The outcome of the case could affect other reservations, including some where Native women are killed at a rate 10 times the national average. A similar lawsuit has been filed by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana.

Oglala Sioux officials argue that the tribe is entitled to federal funding for 120 fully equipped officers for the extensive Pine Ridge Reservation, something the federal government has disputed.

“This Court concludes that the United States owes a specific duty to the Tribe to provide security and law enforcement cooperation and support on the reservation. … However, the Tribe has not shown at this stage that a duty empowers the tribe to reach that level of funding or support,” U.S. District Judge Roberto Lang said in an order filed Tuesday.

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The government denied any such liability and asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

Lang directed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help the tribe refine its funding requests “as soon as possible” to reflect their treaty obligations. They also asked the federal government to re-evaluate its census-based population estimates for the reservation of 19,800 to 32,000, well below the tribe’s figure of 40,000. The judge said the federal estimates likely represent an undercount.

Oglala Sioux president Frank Starr comes out and public safety chief Elgin Young, in separate statements, called on the government to provide the tribe with the resources needed to deal with the public safety and humanitarian crisis on the reservation. If the government fails, Star Comes Out said, the tribe “will look forward to proving at trial that the United States violated its treaty obligations.”

Officials at the US Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Lang’s decision provided a terrifying illustration of the crime on the more than 5,400-square-mile (14,000-square-kilometer) Pine Ridge Reservation, which is about the size of Connecticut. He said it is one of the poorest places in the country.

“In recent years, communities on reservations have struggled with dangerous and highly addictive drugs and experienced unprecedented levels of violence and threats to public safety,” they wrote. “In the tribe’s view, the lack of competent and effective law enforcement on the reservation is a major cause of the crisis.

At any point in the past several years, Lange wrote, the tribe only had the funds to hire about 33 police officers and seven criminal investigators to cover 911 calls. In 2021 alone, there were about 134,000 calls to 911 on the reservation, but at any given time, he said, only six to eight, and sometimes fewer, tribal police officers are on duty to respond. He said that many calls are dropped or not investigated properly, many crimes go unpunished.

While neither side disputes that crime on the reservation is “too high” and its police are underrepresented, the judge wrote, the federal government insists that “funding is justified by budget shortfalls and the law in Indian Country.” Congressional decision to reduce enforcement services generally.”

Lange concluded that the “express language” of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, when read in conjunction with other treaties and federal laws, “imposed certain duties on the United States to provide law enforcement assistance on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” . The delineation of that duty is a more difficult question.”

Associated Press reporter Hailey Golden in Seattle contributed to this story.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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