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LTBB News: Michigan tribes come together for historic meeting

The following article was submitted by Annette VanDeCar, communications coordinator for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan. Photo from Crazy Horse Memorial

On March 6, eight of the 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan attended what has become a historic event.

The 2015 Michigan Tribal SORNA Collaboration meeting was hosted by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB) at the Odawa Hotel in Petoskey. The meeting was developed, coordinated and facilitated by Su Lantz, Executive Legal Assistant and SORNA point of contact for LTBB, with support from Jim Warren of the White Earth Nation & Fox Valley Technical College, who trains across Indian country on SORNA Implementation.

Notably, in addition to the presenters mentioned in this article, there were SORNA Administrative Staff, Attorneys, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Officers, including Probation.

LTBB was honored to have William (Bill) Denemy, Sr., a tribal elder who retired from the Michigan State Police, serving the force for 33 years, bless this historic event with an opening prayer. Bill also served a four-year term as the LTBB Vice-Chair and currently serves on the LTBB Appellate Court.

The meeting was a huge success. Everyone in attendance had something to offer since not all the tribes have implemented SORNA in the same manner or have the same laws.

Title I of the Adam Walsh Act, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), requires all offenders to register and report with the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where they reside, work and/or go to school. Under the Act, certain federally recognized tribes were eligible to be SORNA jurisdictions.

The United States Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART) has been working with these tribes to determine if they are in a position to substantially implement the requirements of SORNA within their own jurisdictions, using their own laws, policies and procedures, or if the tribe could opt out, waive its sovereignty and allow the state where it resides to take over the jurisdiction.

All the tribes in Michigan have welcomed the option of implementing the requirements of SORNA on their own, and most have been found to be substantially compliant. The self-implementation of SORNA comes with a caveat being the SMART Office supplies the tribes with guidance sheets, a requirements checklist and holds the authority to approve your submission. All that amounts to a massive amount of work for the tribe to obtain a finding of substantially compliant and to maintain their compliance status.

Su Lantz reported on the use of a cross-functional team to assure compliance through all tribal programs and the use of the checklist provided by SMART to stay in compliance. Other presenters included Jolanda Murphy from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) who spoke on switching the tribe’s implementation from the Tribal and Territorial Sex Offender Registry System (TTSORS) to the State Police sponsored “Offender Watch” program. GTB reported the usage of kiosks to assist in the notification process.

Elaine Overbeck of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe) reported the tribe was updating its law to allow for the addition of new trust lands to its reservation and emphasized how the required documentation are “living documents” with constant need for review to change along with the tribal and SORNA requirements.

Ben Graves of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians brought up an interesting topic. The tribe realized it needed to register offenders who are contracted through the tribe for building projects and in the future, it may have to make accommodations for registry in more than three jurisdictions if the tribe pursues a purchase of land in Indiana near the Michigan border.

Chuck Miller of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) utilizes TTSORS and has no intentions of switching to Offender Watch. Chuck has an agreement with Michigan for some of the mandated reporting systems. However, KBIC updates information directly into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) by way of the USDOJ’s Telecommunications System (JUST). KBIC is highly energized with community notification and very pro-active in its sex offense approach to diminish first-time offenders.

Latisha Willette of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (SSM) reported SSM has five large areas of jurisdiction which are not connected, so monitoring is difficult, but it also utilizes kiosks, and the tribe is continuously looking at methods to improve its implementation.

Michelle Bostic of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRB) reports that they received approval of its substantial implementation in 2011 and is awaiting a status update on its newly submitted law. Michelle brought up the sex offender re-capture provisions as they pertain to tribal and non-tribal members and civil forfeitures for offenders who are non-compliant with their reporting.

Sharon Avery of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan (SCIT) reports since SCIT has the largest identifiable reservation boundary, not like most tribes with “checkered board” jurisdiction; it has an enormous amount of registered/reporting offenders. SCIT is responsible for all offenders, tribal/non-tribal, within its reservation boundary.

Su Lantz gave short reports for both the Nottawaseppi Huron Tribe and the Hannahville Indian Community. Both tribes have very clear and concise websites utilizing Offender Watch, and both used the Model Code provided by SMART.

When most people hear the words “Sex Offender,” they immediately resort to the famous monkeys: “Hear No, See No, and Speak No Evil.” All the tribes who have substantially implemented SORNA by approval from the USDOJ, SMART Office should be commended for addressing these crimes head-on through laws, policy and procedure.

With all the hard work these colleagues manage, it is imperative the tribal and outlying communities realize offenders can be and are a threat, and that we need to offer protection to our people. It is most important to realize tribes having the capability to enact laws also have the responsibility to address the punishment and treatment for offenders to reassure when their sentence is complete, they are capable of re-entry into society without re-offending.

One tribe in Michigan which sends not only one, but two notices to its registered offenders reminding them their reporting date is coming up. In this tribe’s mindset, this is being pro-active because it claims everyone can forget or busy lives get in the way.

Have you ever forgotten to renew your driver’s license? This is only one little tiny example of how the implementation method of each tribe impacts those who commit a sex crime. This follows along the lines of Native belief to preserve and protect for the next Seven Generations - this means those who have offended and those who have not, those who are victims, and those who could potentially be a victim.

These topics are a few of the many other important collaborative discussion topics. The meeting was a great success and should be considered as a model for tribes across Indian Country. It creates a very productive forum for tribes to share experiences; resolve mutual problems; and to support and network with one another to better serve their communities.

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LTBB News: Little Traverse Bay Bands to exercise VAWA power (3/19)

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