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Lake County votes to stop providing law enforcement on the Flathead Reservation

A sign on the Flathead Reservation in Pablo, MT says "The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation." The sign shows an illustration of a tribal member in traditional dress standing near a river and pointing away in the distance.
Josh Burnham
A sign in Pablo, MT on the Flathead Reservation

Lake County commissioners have officially voted to pull out of an agreement to provide law enforcement services on the Flathead Reservation. The state will be required to provide those services later this year.

Commissioners unanimously voted to withdraw from the agreement between the state and tribes, known as Public Law 280.

Lake County agreed in the 1960s to provide law enforcement services on behalf of the state across the Flathead Reservation. But county commissioners say taxpayers can’t afford to pay for those services, estimated at $4 million annually.

The Legislature passed a bill in 2021 requiring the state to reimburse Lake County for those services, but appropriated $1 for that work. The law also gave the county and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) the ability to withdraw from the agreement.

To make Lake County’s withdrawal of Public Law 280 official, Gov. Greg Gianforte will have six months to issue a proclamation acknowledging it. The state would then be charged with providing law enforcement services on the reservation.

CSKT spokesperson Gwen Lankford declined to comment on the county’s withdrawal. Gov. Gianforte’s office did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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