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Idaho tribes seek Cabinet post

One concern: Resolving conflicts among police

John Miller Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho Indian leaders want Gov. Butch Otter to create a Cabinet post dedicated to improving tribal relations, including resolving law enforcement disputes that erupt because no agreements exist between tribal police and sheriffs in neighboring counties.

Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone Paiute tribal leaders met last week with Otter, though the Republican governor made no commitments.

“Tribal economies in Idaho generate at least a half billion dollars annually, provide thousands of jobs, and pay millions of dollars in Idaho tax revenues that flows into state coffers,” Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan said Wednesday. “It only seems fair for tribes to have place within Gov. Otter’s administration.”

Allan said at least 34 states have similar positions. In Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer has an Indian affairs adviser in his Cabinet; the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs keeps Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire abreast of matters involving 29 tribes.

This past decade, Idaho and tribes in the state have tussled over water rights, taxes on reservation gasoline, even Depression-era murals depicting an Indian’s lynching in the Boise building that housed the Legislature for two years.

Those were resolved, but other concerns remain, including cross-deputization of tribal and county authorities. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has such an agreement with Kootenai County that lets tribal authorities arrest non-tribal members, but a similar pact with Benewah County collapsed in 2007. That’s contributed to law-enforcement disputes on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s southern waters.

The matter is complicated, because other Idaho tribes are suspicious such agreements give non-tribal authorities an excuse to come onto their sovereign land for nefarious reasons – distrust stretching back to the 19th century when reservations were created.

In 2005, for instance, Shoshone-Bannock leaders kicked off the reservation non-tribal teens accused of stealing $58,000 in silver, rather than seeking help from neighboring counties to prosecute the crimes, out of concern over protecting the tribe’s right to govern itself.

Otter spokesman Mark Warbis called the Dec. 22 meeting with tribal leaders “a listening session.”

The governor “wanted to hear where the tribes are, what their priorities are, and to continue to let them know his door is open,” Warbis said.

Otter’s staff attorney, David Hensley, helped resolve issues like returning lottery machines to retail outlets on the Nez Perce Reservation in north-central Idaho, as well as working out agreements in 2007 for tribes to turn over fuel tax revenue to the state to help fix roads.

But Marc Stewart, a Coeur d’Alene Tribe spokesman, said Wednesday that issues like those, as well as resolving jurisdictional disputes over law enforcement, could be handled more quickly if Otter had a full-time staffer devoted to tribal matters.

“This is long overdue,” Stewart said.

A Sept. 1 meeting of the Idaho Legislature’s 10-member Council on Indian Affairs, created in 1999 to bolster cooperation between tribes and lawmakers, showed matters remain far from resolved.

“Cities and counties use cross-deputization as an excuse to come onto reservation lands for other reasons,” said Fort Hall Business Council Vice Chairman Nathan Small, according to the minutes.

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