Racism Underlying Reason for House Defeat of Tribal Cross Deputization Bill

Sometimes, I swear, in southern Benewah County you can sometimes hear the strains of banjos coming from a front porches. There's been an ongoing dispute between the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and Benewah County officials about recognizing the authority of POST trained tribal police. Jurisdiction on the reservation is often a muddled mess, but there are cross deputization agreements just about everywhere else in the state where reservation land and counties intersect, in order to provide adequate protection for ALL residents. This dispute has been brewing for years and came to a head in 2008 when tribal police tried to apprehend a vessel operated by County Commissioner Jack Buell and his wife.

As they approached the boat, a woman on board, later identified as Eleanor Buell, yelled, "You Indians have no jurisdiction on these waters," according to the police reports.

Then a man on board, later identified as Jack Buell, asked the officers, "Do you Indians know where you are?" the reports stated.

The officers informed the occupants of the boat that they knew they were in Benewah County but that tribal police had authority on tribal waters, the report said, and told the Buells to pull the boat over.

"I am the Benewah County Commissioner and Indians have no jurisdiction on us," the officers reported Buell as saying. Then Eleanor Buell reportedly told her husband that "Indians have no authority on white people, so just leave."

After the officers persuaded Buell to stop his boat, Dressler put his hand on the boat to keep it from banging against the patrol boat, both officers said.

"At this time, I felt a strike on my top side of my left hand," Dressler reported.

No resolution was accomplished on this or the cross deputization agreement the county canceled a year before, so the tribe took it to the state for resolution. Last year the proposed legislation was delayed in favor of mediation. A settlement was reached in principle, resulting in the legislation being pulled, pending some later negotiations for final details to be worked out. Benewah County reneged raising questions on whether the county entered the negotiations in good faith. The tribe caused the legislation to be resubmitted this year.

The House killed the bill in a very close 35-34 vote. Stapilus excerpted some telling arguments from the debate. Representative Rich Wills of Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, stated:

he’s received hundreds of calls and e-mails threatening him and questioning his integrity for backing the bill. “I’ve had threats I’d better never go into the county again,” he said. “I’ve been called all kinds of sundry names.” Opponents raised fears, ranging from the tribe taking away the guns of non-Indians who have concealed weapons permits and pass through the reservation to provisions of tribal code being used to impose civil penalties on non-Indians – something that already can occur today on the reservation. “This doesn’t change anything about that,” Wills said. Instead, it addressed criminal violations – saying tribal police officers could enforce state law against non-tribal members, but they’d have to be cited under state law and into state court.”

There was also this, from Representative Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, who was in favor of the bill, and who said during debate that he was “stunned to hear that the first question a dispatcher asks in Benewah County is whether the person calling in with an emergency is an Indian or non-Indian. That’s just not right, he said.”

Some of the bill’s opponents argued that the opposition really didn’t have racial undertones. Put that pitch in the category of a tough sell.

This event prompted an interesting thread at HBO between north Idaho right wing activist turned lobbyist, Larry Spencer, Tribal spokesperson Marc Stewart, and Kootenai County Sgt. Christie Wood, whose department has a very successful cross deputization agreement with the same tribe. She also happens to be a member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations The thread is informative by the smackdown the tribe gives to the County's feeble, baseless, and misinformed contentions. Make sure you read all the way down to 7:10 where I call a spade a spade.