Historic Legislation Signals Commitment to Improved Tribal-State Government Relations



Changed Law Allows Tribal Police to Enforce State Criminal Law on Tribal Lands


PRAIRIE ISLAND, Minn., May 30, 2019Governor Tim Walz has signed historic legislation that reinforces the ability of the Prairie Island Indian Community’s Tribal Police department to enforce state criminal law while policing Tribal lands. The changed law, signed last week, goes into effect August 1, 2019. The law recognizes Prairie Island Indian Community’s sovereignty and inherent self-governance rights


“This is a great day for our Community and for the state of Minnesota,” said Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council president Shelley Buck. “This change to an outdated law is a great example of what respectful government-to-government relations is all about. We are very thankful to the lawmakers who advocated for and supported our Community and to the Walz Administration for its consistent supportive leadership. There is a spirit of cooperation and commitment to improved Tribal-state relations that we haven’t seen in a long time.”


“I am committed to being a strong partner to the Prairie Island Indian Community and all of Minnesota’s Tribal governments,” said Governor Walz. “This bill affirms the sovereignty of the Prairie Island Indian Community and recognizes our shared responsibility to keep our people and our communities safe.”


“It is an unfortunate reality that Tribal sovereignty and autonomy are still questioned. This amendment is one more step toward recognizing the sovereignty and self-governance of our Tribal nations in Minnesota. I am so proud to have carried this bill for Prairie Island, the bilateral endorsement it received, and the Governor’s attention to this historic legislation,” said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, lead author of the bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives.


Minnesota lawmakers passed SF1100 by sizeable majorities in both the House (122-8) and Senate (58-7). The legislation changes existing law, which requires county approval in order for the Tribal police officers to enforce state criminal law on their lands. No other police agency in the state has this mandate. If a county refuses approval under the current law, enforcement of criminal laws on Tribal lands becomes more challenging as the ability of the Tribe to police its lands is limited, increasing the overall risk to a Tribal community. The new law recognizes that Prairie Island already has concurrent jurisdictional authority with the local county sheriff to enforce state criminal law within the reservation’s boundaries, and makes cooperation agreements with county sheriff’s departments a matter of mutual consent.


“We have strong, cooperative relationships with Goodhue County and several neighboring law enforcement agencies, and we will continue those partnerships,” said President Buck. “This change in law is about fairness and respecting Tribal governments for what we are, governments. It eliminates the risk that our ability to maintain safety on our land is diminished unilaterally or unfairly.”


While the legislation is specific to the Prairie Island Indian Community it establishes precedent for other Tribes in Minnesota, as well as across the country, to bolster their law enforcement autonomy.


Representative Barb Haley, who played a pivotal role in moving the final legislation forward, said, “after consulting all the stakeholders, I was pleased to support codifying the Prairie Island Indian Community’s sovereign right to provide for the safety of its tribal members, visitors, and casino customers. As a result of the PIIC police force’s excellent reputation and proven capabilities, the legislature approved this measure with strong bipartisan support.”


Senator Michael Goggin, lead author in the Minnesota Senate, added “Prairie Island has gone above and beyond to ensure the protection of their residents and those visiting their community. They are more than equipped to police their community, and I am happy I was able to carry a bill upholding their right to do so.”


In 1953, Congress passed the controversial Public Law 280, which included a transfer of criminal jurisdiction over tribal lands from the federal government to state government. Minnesota was one of six states mandated to make the change, along with California, Nebraska, Oregon, Wisconsin and eventually Alaska. Other states were given the option of taking jurisdiction. Public Law 280 creates additional layers of bureaucracy and confusion in those states where it was enacted and has served as a complex obstacle for many Tribes trying to exercise their sovereign right of self-governance.





About the Prairie Island Indian Community

The Prairie Island Indian Community, a federally recognized Indian Nation, is located in southeastern Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River, approximately 30 miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Twin nuclear reactors and 44 large steel nuclear waste storage casks sit just 600 yards from Prairie Island tribal homes. A total of 98 casks could be stranded on Prairie Island indefinitely unless the federal government fulfills its commitment to create a permanent storage solution. The only evacuation route off the Prairie Island is frequently blocked by passing trains. The Tribe has been pushing for the removal of the nuclear waste since 1994 when Xcel Energy was first allowed to store the waste near its reservation. On the web: www.prairieisland.org.