ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - During an impassioned rally at the State Capitol, tribal members and leaders from the Band of the Ojibwe asked Mille Lacs County to give tribal police more power.
The Band of Ojibwe is suing the sheriff and county attorney for preventing their tribal police from doing their jobs. Leaders say it's putting lives on the line amidst a drug crisis that's getting worse.
The problem started last summer when a joint-powers agreement ended. The lawsuit claims that the county, the county attorney and the sheriff are preventing tribal officers from doing their jobs and stopping crime, especially drug-related crime. The tribe believes that violates federal law.
“What is happening on our reservation is a great tragedy,” said Bradley Harrington of the Band of Ojibwe. “We're not just losing people, we're losing our people. Our family.”
The tribe says that loss has come in the form of lives and drug abuse. In 2015, there were seven overdoses on the reservation. Since the joint-powers agreement ended, there have been 66 overdoses and 13 people have died.
“Your lives, your law enforcement, is our law enforcement,” said Scott Vele, the executive director of Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes. “You should not have to be afraid, wherever you are, whether you are going to the store, the casino, you are in your hospitals, this world is becoming very, very dangerous.”
When Mille Lacs County revoked the agreement in 2016, they argued that the tribal government had prioritized tribal law over state law. Now, more than a year later, the tribe asks wants the court to allow tribal police the power to investigate federal, state and tribal law within the Mille Lacs reservation.
“We all want community policing,” said Robert Larsen, the chairman of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. “We all support our tribal police. Our concern is if Mille Lacs County can revoke their agreement, any county could revoke that agreement.”
Governor Dayton has requested that the two sides enter mediation, which is scheduled for November 27. The tribe says they will be there to negotiate. Fox 9 has asked for a response from Mille Lacs County to this lawsuit and the rally, but they have not yet responded to that request.