ONAMIA, Minn. — Leaders of a Native American tribe say public safety on their central Minnesota reservation worsened last year when a nearby county terminated an agreement that allowed tribal police to provide law enforcement.
Mille Lacs County’s decision to terminate the agreement with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe ended 25 years of cooperation between the tribe and county sheriff’s office, Minnesota Public Radio reported . County officials said they ended the agreement because the relationship had ceased to be cooperative and the band was exercising law enforcement authority outside of its jurisdiction.
Without the agreement, tribal officers don’t have authority under state law to act as peace officers and pursue investigations, leaving those functions to the county sheriff’s office. Tribal police can arrest suspects but must turn them over to the sheriff’s office.
Interim tribal Police Chief Sara Rice said it’s a frustrating situation.
“All the officers know that they can at least make a dent in this,” Rice said. “It’s never going to go away completely. But you can help to deter it in some way, or hold people accountable for what they’re doing and what they’re bringing here.”
But Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh disputes that law enforcement on the reservation has gotten lax since the agreement was revoked. He said the county hired about 10 new deputies and is providing equal coverage as before.
The move came amid a growing problem of opioid abuse in the area. The tribe says it’s had nearly 50 overdoses this year, including a few deaths.
“It’s drug dealers, drug users, just the criminal element that’s here,” said Pete Nayquonabe, a resident on the reservation. “You can see it and feel it. And there’s just a feeling of not being safe anymore.”
Rice said opioid addiction has led to an increase in burglaries, thefts and elder abuse.
“They’re being taken advantage of, or stuff’s missing from their houses,” she said. “It’s all to get the next high.”
Gov. Mark Dayton urged the county and the band to work out a new agreement in mediation.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org