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Pioneer Editorial: U.S., tribes priority to curb crime

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The Associated Press carried a rather sobering report last week about new federal efforts to combat tribal crime. Sobering because of the example The AP used to get into its story:

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"On just a single day this year on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, police and investigators received emergency calls about a suicide, a murder, three stabbings, two shootings and multiple incidents of domestic violence."

That hits close to home -- because it is home. We often surmise such crime exists on the reservation, but because of the sovereign status of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, incidents are rarely if ever publicly reported. There is no open records law that pertains to the reservation.

Underscoring that violent crime exists on the reservation -- The AP said its study of federal statistics shows that American Indians are the victims of violent crime at more than twice the national rate -- should spur a demand for action. That clarion call should come from reservation as well as off-reservation tribal members and from the community at large.

Regardless of color, we all seek safe and secure communities for all of our families and especially our children.

To that end, the U.S. Justice Department announced last week that it will hold a listening tour in Indian Country to solicit advice from tribal leaders and experts on how to curb violent crime on the reservation. Working sessions are slated for Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle, Sept. 21-22 in Albuquerque, N.M., and a listening conference Oct. 28-29 at Minneapolis.

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, who worked with the issue in the Clinton administration, said that "it translates into suffering in people's lives that just is unacceptable in this country." Unfortunately, not much as changed since then-Attorney General Janet Reno held similar listening sessions in 1994 with tribal leaders.

Gang activity and drug trafficking have risen in tribes nationwide, and certainly haven't escaped the Red Lake Reservation, or the Leech Lake Reservation for that matter.

Tribal authorities need to make crime fighting a priority on their reservations, a priority we see lacking. Red Lake has refused to participate in joint drug enforcement task forces, and a mutual law enforcement agreement is lacking between Red Lake and Beltrami County.

Reservations, in effect, have become safe havens for those who perpetrate, recruit and commit crimes on and off the reservation.

The federal government does have jurisdiction in Indian Country, and hopefully the upcoming sessions will not only shed light on the severity of the problem, but also begin to seek solutions -- to curb crime and also to attack the root causes for crime, chief among them poverty and racism.

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