Suspected drug dealers are no longer welcome on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has voted to banish accused drug dealers or “undesirables” from the reservation, saying federal prosecutors aren’t doing enough to pursue cases against them.
Banishment has been used as a punishment on the reservation before and the tribe will start using it again, Chairman Harry Barnes tells the Flathead Beacon.
Barnes said that under a motion passed by the council earlier this month, known drug dealers will be escorted to the reservation boundary and informed that if they come back they will be arrested.
Tribal courts can only prosecute misdemeanors. Federal law requires federal prosecution in the case of suspected major felonies committed by Native Americans on a reservation. The Blackfeet say the federal government has left some cases uncharged.
Barnes said banishment would not apply to suspected drug users, just dealers “who are preying on our reservation and our people.”
Attorneys who specialize in tribal law said banishment may raise civil rights issues, while others understand why the decision was made.
“The idea that an accused person that has not been convicted of a crime by a jury of their peers could be banished does raise some civil rights concerns,” said Seattle attorney Gabriel Galanda. “If precautions are not taken, a banishment or exclusion could be disastrous for a tribe, in fact, it could backfire.”
An exclusion would apply to a nontribal member.
Kalispell attorney Thane Johnson, who was a tribal judge from 2002-2006, said it is frustrating to see major crimes including sexual assaults and drug cases fall through the cracks because the tribe can’t prosecute felonies.
“The tribe has a point because there is a problem with the system and a lot of crimes go unpunished,” he said.