Montana Public Radio

Lake County Commissioner: Prosecuting Felonies For CSKT Is 'Breaking Us'

Jan 12, 2017

Lake County Commissioners are asking Montana’s legislature to withdraw from an agreement that lets the state prosecute felonies for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Montana enacted Public Law 280 in 1963 to allow for local prosecution of Native American tribal members, who are usually tried in federal court. The Flathead Reservation is the only reservation in Montana with this voluntary agreement.

Lake County Commissioner Dave Stipe says the law works well in terms of serving justice, but neither the state, the federal government nor the tribes are helping to pay for what the county considers an increasing financial burden:

"It's breaking us at this point," Stipe says. "We're not doing road services that we should be doing, we're not doing health service that we should be doing because we have to keep funding the jail and the court system."

Stipe added the resolution is a way to bring people to the table to find more reliable funding.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have not yet taken a stance on the county’s resolution. Tribal spokesperson Rob McDonald says it’s a bit surprising, given that the tribes tried unsuccessfully to back out of Public Law 280 in 1991:

"I think it's safe to say our leadership did a double-take when they heard the county was proposing something that they once fought off," McDonald says.

Representative Greg Hertz, a Republican from Polson, plans to submit a bill requesting the state reimburse the four counties impacted by Public Law 280.