YAKIMA — The Yakima County sheriff and the Yakama Nation have signed a agreement concerning arrests on tribal lands, ending decades of disputes on the 1.2 million-acre reservation.
The agreement signed by tribal and county officials says deputies must contact tribal police before executing warrants on tribal members on tribal land, and be willing to allow a tribal police officer to be present during the arrest, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported in Saturday’s newspaper.
The memorandum also requires deputies to book tribal members into Yakama tribal jail until a formal extradition is filed to transfer a defendant to county custody.
“I feel ecstatic about this,” Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin said Friday telephone. “It’s going to help defuse a lot of injustice that has occurred. It’s going to help defuse a lot of racial tension between non-Indians and Indians on the reservation, and it’s going to save the county a heck of a lot of money.”
The Yakama Nation signed a treaty in 1855 with the federal government, in which the 10,000-member tribe retained authority to govern itself. It has its own police department and jail.
But in 1953, Congress enacted Public Law 280, which allowed several states to take over criminal and much civil authority of tribal members on their own reservations.
Yakama tribal authorities have retained much criminal authority over its members on the reservation, but are now petitioning to have the rest, including civil authority over its people, returned.
Stew Graham, chief of detectives with the sheriff’s office, said procedures for arresting and jailing tribal members have always been difficult in past agreements.
“This one seems to be the most workable,” Graham said.
The agreement comes on the heels of a lawsuit the tribe filed in March 2011 against the U.S. Department of Justice for allowing FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies to execute a search and seizure warrant on a tribal cigarette manufacturer on Feb. 16, 2011, without first notifying Yakama authorities. The lawsuit seeks a federal order requiring outside authorities to notify tribal authorities before executing warrants on the reservation.
Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey said he’s working to help two other counties overlapped by the reservation — Klickitat and Kittitas — become part of the agreement as well as two nontribal towns on the reservation, Toppenish and Wapato.
“That way we’re all working off the same playbook,” he said.