Tribes and states stress cooperation not conflict
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Three states with significant Indian populations joined the battle over state police powers on Thursday by filing a brief in support of tribal rights in a closely watched Supreme Court case.

The attorneys general of New Mexico, Montana, Arizona and Washington sided with the Bishop Paiute Tribe of California, whose casino was raided by county law enforcement as part of a probe into alleged welfare fraud by tribal employees. New Mexico doesn't treat its tribes that way, Gov. Bill Richardson (D) said, pointing to cooperative law enforcement agreements it has made.

"In New Mexico, we do not use bolt cutters and search warrants against Indian tribes to conduct our criminal investigations," he said, referring to the actions of the Inyo County sheriff's department in the case.

Yesterday's brief was accompanied by another one filed by the largest inter-tribal organization. National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) submitted to the Supreme Court dozens of law enforcement agreements in hopes of contradicting claims that Indian Country would become "enclaves" of lawlessness unless state police are allowed full authority to investigate alleged crimes whether they occur on or off the reservation.

NCAI President Tex Hall noted the historic nature of the states' amicus brief -- it was the first time in recent history that state governments have supported tribal sovereignty at the Supreme Court.

"We used to call Montana the 'Deep North,'" he said yesterday in Washington, D.C., where he concluded NCAI's annual winter meeting.

Monty Bengochia, chairman of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, was also at NCAI. He welcomed the addition of the supporting briefs and said the tribe sought to cooperate with the county but was forced to go to court.

"When they came in with their guns and their bolt cutters, they not only took those three peoples' employees records, they took about 80-plus other employees' records," he said.

John D. Kirby, an attorney representing Inyo County, sounded a conciliatory tone in an interview about the case. "We're hoping that the result of this will help improve the relationship with the tribe and we can all move forward," he said.

The county is backed by ten state attorneys general, the National Sheriffs' Association, the California State Sheriffs' Association and the Los Angeles Country district attorney. The language contained in these amicus briefs has alarmed tribal leaders.

The Bush administration has also weighed in, supporting the tribe's freedom from state police powers. Government attorneys, however, said the tribe shouldn't be able to sue the county for violating the tribe's rights.

Oral arguments in Inyo County v. Bishop Paiute Tribe are set for March 31.

Bishop Paiute Tribe | Inyo County | New Mexico, Washington, Montana and Arizona | National Congress of American Indians / National Indian Gaming Association / Tribes | United States | State Attorney Generals | National Sheriff's Association | Los Angeles County

Decision Below:
BISHOP PAIUTE TRIBE v. COUNTY OF INYO No. 01-15007 (January 4, 2002)

Relevant Documents:
Docket Sheet: No. 02-281 | Senate Testimony: Monty Bengochia on Supreme Court Precedents

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