By Alan Sorensen
Nearly 30 Chippewa Cree tribal members turned out for a public meeting Tuesday night to voice their concerns about law and order and peoples personal safety on Rocky Boys Reservation.
The meeting, called by Tribal Councilman Jonathan Windy Boy, was intended to give Rocky Boy residents the chance to voice their concerns about tribal police, courts, social services and domestic violence programs.
Ive been sitting back and listening at council, said Windy Boy, who was elected to the Tribal Business Committee last fall. Theres been a lot of disgruntlement from people, a lack of confidence in our law enforcement.
Were here to focus on the problems, starting today and moving into the future. Yesterday is done; we cant do anything about that.
Panel members included councilmen Windy Boy and Alvin Windy Boy, Domestic Abuse Coordinator Richard Small, Tescha Hawley of Social Services, Judge Enos Johnson, Police Chief Earl Arkinson, and Ronnie Joe Henry of RJS & Associates.
Henry handed out a simple survey form the assessment company prepared for the meeting. Completed surveys that list peoples concerns will be studied during working meetings at the Duck Inn in Havre Thursday and Friday.
Henry said that all Rocky Boy residents and tribal members are invited to participate in the meetings that are intended to provide recommendations for action and change on the reservation.
While the discussions were serious, jokes and laughter were used frequently to help keep the discussion going.
Debbie St. Pierre said she believes that drug and alcohol abuse are the primary causes of most problems on the reservation. She suggested that organizers invite Rocky Boy Schools trustees and Stone Child College regents to be involved with any responses to the survey because of the drug and alcohol problems among students.
Morris St. Pierre, the tribes compliance officer, handed out copies of the tribes zero tolerance drug policy. He noted that any tribal employee testing positive for drugs is automatically fired. That employee may not work for any tribal agency for at least one year. He also must complete treatment and follow-up before becoming eligible for re-employment.
St. Pierre said he wants better tracking of all tickets issued by police officers, what happens to them in the prosecutors office and how theyre disposed of in tribal court. He said he believes that only 25 percent of all tickets issued to tribal members end up being prosecuted.
St. Pierre was also concerned for the welfare of whistle-blowers and informants.
When people inform, it comes back on them, he said. Instead of being the good Samaritan, they become the victims.
St. Pierre also had praise for the police department.
I want to say this to Chief Arkinson, pat him and his staff on the back for this past weekend, he said. Its good to see him out and about.
Debbie St. Pierre also suggested that the youth, adult and civil courts be separated entirely and that the tribal judges be given more clerical support. And she further urged that anyone who assaulted a police officer or jailer should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Richard Small, domestic abuse coordinator at Rocky Boy, said a judge-exchange agreement is being reached with other Montana reservations. Using off reservation judges for some cases is expected to result in less retaliation against the local judges and more equitable rulings.
Mario Patacsil expressed concern for the separation of governmental entities. Can the council override a judges ruling?
Charles Gopher expressed much the same concern.
Police cant do nothing. If they do something, they get fired. Theres no official protection of our people since this self-governance came in here, he said. Its run by a handful of people wheres our protection?
Gopher said he was still confused about the councils authority to remove Chief Tribal Judge Gilbert Belgarde from office and leave the position unfilled.
Todays judges cant do nothing, he said. Theres no protection on the reservation. A lot of drugs, lot of intimidation.
Geri Racine asked when the new jail would be open, but no one was sure because of problems with contractors. Jonathan Windy Boy assured Debbie St. Pierre that, when the new jail opens, plans call for the old jail to be converted to a juvenile facility to keep adults and kids separate.
Gopher apologized at the end of the meeting if he offended anyone with his comments, but said he thought they needed to be said.
Several other concerns were discussed during the meeting and all concerns will be discussed during the sessions in Havre tomorrow and Friday.
Henry said that the result could be new laws on the books and maybe even amendments to the tribal constitution and by-laws. Those decisions, he said, would likely rest with community members.