Last year, Marty Jackley defended a white rancher who ran a tribal covid-19 checkpoint because he didn’t think white folks had to listen to tribal law enforcement. The Dewey County state’s attorney agreed to drop the eluding charge against the rancher because the tribal law enforcement officer in question didn’t technically meet South Dakota’s statutory definition of a law enforcement officer. A magistrate judge still found the rancher guilty of failing to stop for an emergency vehicle.
If all those unvaccinated South Dakotans contribute to a new mutation and outbreak of coronavirus and thus prompt our tribal neighbors to set up checkpoints again to protect themselves from the white man’s foolishness, white ranchers and Jackley might want to think twice about dismissing the authority of tribal law enforcement. On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v Joshua James Cooley that Crow, Lakota, and other tribal law enforcement officials can stop Indians and non-Indians alike to protect their communities:
In the opinion issued by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court found that restricting tribal law enforcement officers from stopping, searching and temporarily detaining non-Native people could compromise officers’ ability to protect the “health or welfare of the tribe.” That language stems from a previous case, Montana v. United States, in which the court ruled against the Crow Tribe’s ability to regulate fishing and hunting by non-tribal members on land that is not owned by the tribe. That limitation on the tribe’s enforcement authority, Breyer wrote, was issued with important exceptions, including a provision for responding to threats against a tribe’s health or welfare.
“To deny a tribal police officer authority to search and detain for a reasonable time any person he or she believes may commit or has committed a crime would make it difficult for tribes to protect themselves against ongoing threats,” Breyer wrote in the Cooley decision. “Such threats may be posed by, for instance, non-Indian drunk drivers, transporters of contraband, or other criminal offenders operating on roads within the boundaries of a tribal reservation” [Mara Silvers, “U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Law Enforcement Authority over Non-Natives,” Montana Free Press, 2021.06.01].
Native groups are naturally pleased with this affirmation of their sovereignty:
“Protecting our tribal citizens is one of the most basic services we can provide, and today every member of the Supreme Court agreed,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “This 9-0 decision is one of the strongest affirmations of tribal sovereignty in a generation and helps secure Native communities. For too long, non-Native criminals escaped justice from crimes committed on tribal lands, but today’s unanimous decision in United States v. Cooley is monumental in changing that. We applaud this decision and look forward to advocating for our member tribes as they improve safety and security in tribal communities as a result of this new precedent” [National Congress of American Indians, press release, 2021.06.01].
So remember, Marty and friends: being white does not grant you privilege to ignore Indian cops. If you see cherries in the rear-view on your way to Timber Lake, the Supreme Court says you’ve got to pull over.