Posted by Spirit Lake Tribal Health Events on Thursday, April 5, 2018
Veterans from the Spirit Lake Nation are seen in a photo shared by Spirit Lake Tribal Health Events.

Spirit Lake Nation jurisdiction bill about to clear first hurdle in Congress

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is meeting on Wednesday afternoon to advance a piece of tribal legislation.

The sole item on the agenda for the business meeting is S.2159, the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation Criminal Jurisdiction Retrocession Act. The repeals a termination-era law that subjects American Indians on the Spirit Lake Nation to prosecution by the state of North Dakota for certain crimes.

The committee has not held a hearing on S.2159 during the 116th Congress. But a prior version was advanced during the last session after a Spirit Lake leader outlined the ways in which law enforcement services and the justice system have grown in the tribal community.

"With the great strides that the Spirit Lake Tribe has made in the past seventy plus years, there is no need for the state of North Dakota to prosecute crimes occurring on the reservation beyond what is permitted by federal laws generally applicable to Indian Country as a whole," Douglas Yankton, who was serving as vice chair at the time, told the committee at a hearing last November.

Lawmakers point out that Spirit Lake is the only Indian nation in North Dakota whose citizens are subject to the same restriction. That's one reason why the entire Republican Congressional delegation, as well as the Republican governor, support S.2159.

“This bill will reinforce tribal sovereignty by providing the Spirit Lake Nation with jurisdiction over criminal offenses committed on the Spirit Lake reservation, just as other North Dakota tribes currently have jurisdiction on their reservations,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the committee and sponsor of the measure. “This legislation will provide clarity for both the state of North Dakota and the Spirit Lake Nation when it comes to criminal offenses committed on the tribe’s reservation.”

“Right now Spirit Lake effectively holds jurisdiction in law enforcement matters involving their tribal members. This bill changes the law to match that reality and honors the tribe’s request,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota). a co-sponsor of the bill.

“The Spirit Lake Indian Reservation has developed a criminal justice system capable of handling crimes by or against tribal members. It just makes sense to defer jurisdiction back to the tribal government. This is a common-sense bill that honors the wishes of the Spirit Lake Tribe,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-North Dakota), who introduced H.R.3831, a companion bill, in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 18.

The termination era of Indian policy lasted between the 1940s and 1960s, and one of its goals was to place tribes and their citizens under state, rather than federal, authority. Though the policy has been repudiated as a failure, Congress is still addressing the effects of laws like the one that at Spirit Lake.

The business meeting takes place at 2:30pm Eastern in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. It will be immediately followed by a confirmation hearing for E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Both sessions are scheduled to be webcast by the committee.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
Business Meeting to consider S. 2159 (July 24, 2019)

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