Skip to content

To be or not to be

October 4, 2010

I was presented with an interesting dilemma this week upon receiving a speeding ticket from the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) police.  To be or not to be under tribal jurisdiction?  The choice was actually mine.

When I was issued the ticket on Friday afternoon on my way to Billings, the BIA cop told me I had to appear in court at 10:30am on Monday or a warrant would be issued for my arrest.  Not knowing how or whether he had jurisdiction over me, I figured I’d better show up to find out–I certainly didn’t want the cop coming after me at the tribal college while I’m teaching!  When it was my turn to address the judge in court (there were about 25 cases on the docket), she asked me whether I was a member of any federally recognized tribe.  When I told her I wasn’t, she asked if I wanted to submit to tribal jurisdiction.  If I chose to submit, I would have to pay the fine or plead not guilty and appear for another hearing.  If I chose not to submit, the citation would be null but the prosecutor could choose to pursue having me removed from the reservation.

Hm.  What to do.  Well, not knowing whether the prosecutor would actually pursue removal, I figured I’d better submit since I live and work on the reservation.  But I’ve been thinking about my decision and the issues it raises for most of the day.

On the one hand, I do live and work here, so why should I not be subject to the reservation’s legal system?  On the other hand, I don’t derive any of the benefits of living here that tribal members do.  For instance, I can’t use the medical clinic across the street because I’m not a tribal member, so I have to drive 100 miles to Billings to see a doctor.  Why would I submit to a system that only subjects me to consequences and not to benefits?

It’s interesting to me that I have the choice to decide.  If I were in a foreign country, I would have no choice but to submit to the law of the land, and in a certain sense, I’m in another nation–but in another nation within the nation where I hold citizenship.  No matter where I am, I am subject to federal law, so I do not have complete immunity on the reservation if I don’t submit to tribal jurisdiction; the BIA can detain me and turn me into the federal government if I commit a felony.  But I can choose not to submit to the local laws of the reservation.  Tribal members, on the other hand, are subject to tribal law as well as to U.S. law–but, again, they hold citizenship in both nations and derive the benefits of that dual citizenship.

So should I have submitted to jurisdiction or not?  I have a feeling the tribe wouldn’t have pursued my removal over a speeding ticket, so that’s not really the issue.  The question is more one of principal, and I’m still not quite sure where my inclination lies.

  1. In submitting to tribal jurisdiction, does the fine from the citation you paid go to the BIA and tribal coffers? If you had refused to submit, would you have paid anything? I’m just curious on this point. What a fascinating thing to be pondering and exploring. I’d be eager to hear or read any more you have on this as you have time to think about it. Peace.

  2. Sandy Thatcher permalink

    Now you know what women before 1920 and blacks in the Jim Crow South felt like–disenfranchised to a significant degree but still subject to the laws of the various governments at local, state, and federal levels. I’d submit to tribal jurisdiction, because you do work on the reservation and receive benefits attached to that position, but use the occasion to protest your partial disenfranchisement in the ways you have indicated. I.e., write a letter to the tribal government.– Dad

  3. Interesting point, dad – I hadn’t thought of it that way. Kris, I don’t know where the fine goes, but I assume to the BIA or the tribe. If I hadn’t submitted, I wouldn’t have paid anything.

  4. Just passing by, but a couple items came to mind that might help.Matthew 5:40 — As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well.also:Proverbs 23:4-5 — Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it. As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.

  5. To NoName3333, I’m not quite sure how your last Bible verse applies here. This situation is not about money at all–it is a contemplation of rights, responsibilities, and loyalties. If you read some of my other posts, I think you will find that I am not interested in material things.In any case, thanks for reading and commenting.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Half-citizen | cetansky

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: