Chairman JoDe Goudy of the Yakama Nation addresses the Native Nations Rise rally in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) / More on Flickr

Yakama Nation sues county for arresting minor on homelands in Washington

The Yakama Nation is asserting authority over a disputed portion of its territory with a new lawsuit in federal court.

The tribe sued Klickitat County on Friday for arresting, prosecuting and convicting a minor citizen for a crime that occurred in an area known as Tract D. The two governments are at odds over the status of the 99,000-acre area, and whether it is considered Indian Country.

“The issue here is purely one of jurisdiction,” Vice Chairman Delano Saluskin said in a press release on Monday. “The Yakama Nation and United States have jurisdiction over these alleged crimes, not the state of Washington or Klickitat County. ”

The county believes otherwise. Officials there contend Tract D hasn't been a part of the tribe's land base since the early 1900s.

"Tract D is part of Washington state and under the jurisdiction of Klickitat County," a group of local officials wrote in a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The county tried to get a federal court to make a determination to that effect but its lawsuit was dismissed last year without a ruling on the merits. That means the tribe is poised to resolve the matter with its lawsuit.

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Chairman JoDe Goudy of Yakama Nation #NativeNationsRise

The dispute is complicated by the tribe's admission that the county once had jurisdiction not only over Tract D but on other parts of its reservation. The state was granted such authority under Public Law 280, a termination-era statute that was aimed at relieving the federal government of its trust and treaty responsibilities.

But federal law and policy has shifted toward self-determination and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued a proclamation in January 2014 in which the state began the process of relinquishing its jurisdiction on the Yakama Nation. The process is commonly known as "retrocession."

In October 2015, the BIA announced that it accepted the state's withdrawal.

"Termination-era policies like Public Law 280 should be rolled back," said former Obama administration official Kevin Washburn, who at the time was serving as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

At the same time, the BIA was careful to note that it was not making a call on the boundaries of the reservation, an issue that had been raised prior to the 2015 announcement. That distinction was cited by the federal judge who dismissed the county's lawsuit in September 2016.

And Inslee, in his proclamation, didn't weigh in either. The document asserts that the state will continue to exercise jurisdiction "over the Yakama Nation’s Indian country outside the Yakama Reservation."

Officials in Klickitat County have seized on that statement as they continue to assert authority over Tract D. That's what occurred when a minor Yakama citizen, identified only as "PTS" in the tribe's complaint, was arrested, detained, prosecuted and eventually convicted of statutory rape this fall.

The tribe has not taken a stance on the minor's innocence or guilt. The alleged crime occurred near Glenwood.

"Yakama Nation Police have been directed to investigate the alleged crimes and if warranted, refer the matters for prosecution," vice chair Saluskin said. "We will not allow the county to exercise unlawful jurisdiction over Yakama Members within the Yakama Reservation.”

Federal Register Notice:
Acceptance of Retrocession of Jurisdiction for the Yakama Nation (October 20, 2015)

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Yakama Nation reasserts authority after decades under PL280 (October 20, 2015)