Chairman Dave Flute of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe with Headquarters located in Agency Village, South Dakota published a Press Release1 announcing new Tribal Code passed by Council that includes “Banishment” of Tribal Members who “contribute” to the methamphetamine problem on the Lake Traverse Reservation. Here is an excerpt from Chairman Flute’s Press Release:
This new law will give SWST Tribal Justice Department the ability to execute sentences from six months up to three years depending on the offense, and require mandatory treatment for those that continue to manufacture, distribute, possess and ingest hard drugs.
Also, on a third offense of possession, distribution, manufacturing or ingestion Tribal members will be excluded from all Tribal properties. Third offenses carry a minimum three-year jail sentence, a fine of $15,000, mandatory one-year treatment, 320 hours of community service and exclusion from the Tribe and all Tribal property.
However, upon completion of serving time, completion of treatment, completion of community service hours and all fines paid in full the Tribal member will be given an opportunity to be accepted back into the Tribal community and allowed on Tribal properties.
Still a Terrible Idea as Public Policy
The United States has spent considerable time and money on harsh sentences, prisons, and police with zero results, other than having the highest prison population in the world. We’re Number One!
The Atlantic: A Chart That Says the War on Drugs Isn’t Working
First of all the rhetoric used like “an aggressive approach” simply mirrors that of the failed U.S. “War on Drugs”. It’s only resulted in negative consequences to U.S. Citizens including the highest incarceration in the world, more violence, the creation of a militarized police force, and the systemic disenfranchisement of a significant number of U.S. Citizens. Furthermore, the “War on Drugs” disproportionally affects Minority populations, by giving them a criminal record that affects their ability to get educational funding, housing, and jobs – resulting in more poverty.
This isn’t an Exercise of our Sovereignty
Given the facts that harsher consequences don’t work – Why on Earth would we, the Oyate, enact a similar “harsh consequences” type of public policy? For realz, this policy once again shows that Council doesn’t understand simple concepts like “facts” and “evidence” when making decisions, unless they’re keeping their decision-making skills a secret. Simply mirroring a failed policy is not an exercise of our sovereignty as a Tribal Nation. A true exercise in sovereignty would be implementing innovative and effective solutions that support our Dakotah People – don’t just throw people away like beer cans because they have an addiction.
[The following is an excerpt from my previous article – “Is Banishment Really the Answer?” originally published in April, because it’s still relevant]
Banishment as Public Policy
Before allowing Council to vote “Yes”, the entire Oyate needs to be well-informed about the details of this policy and how it will be applied fairly to all. Banishment may be the current fad amongst tribes battling meth and other drugs, but there is no evidence as of yet that it would be effective in curbing methamphetamine usage and abuse. Currently the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Allakaket Tribe, and the Cheyenne River Tribe have all boarded the Banishment Train specific to meth. Tribal Council singles out methamphetamine for banishment without including other destructive or addictive behaviors like embezzling, gambling, alcohol, nicotine use, other drug abuse, or deviant sexual behaviors like child molestation and rape.
If the Oyate wishes to go forward with banishment, we should do it in a careful, studious way to determine if it really impacts methamphetamine use. We have many resources to do this including our own Research Office (with an established Institutional Review Board to ensure the rights of the participants), Law Enforcement, Community Health practitioners, and other clinical and ancillary providers in our community. If done properly, a research-based approach would inform all Tribal Leaders on just how effective banishment is, because right now, there is no data to support this action.
Some say banishment is just another way of disenfranchising Tribal Members. Donna Ellis3 goes so far to state that
Banishment is another form of cultural genocide and an example of internalized oppression
Prior to leaping to banishment, in addition to current efforts, we should try evidence-based approaches to prevention, harm-reduction, treatment, and recovery. Options include increasing funding for youth activities, harm-reduction strategies like needle exchanges, and evidence-based recovery models like SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training).
Banishment was originally brought forth as a “Traditional Consequence” by the Elderly Board. I can’t comment on the cultural aspects because that’s not my forte, so while I respect their viewpoint, policies affecting so many people and families should be created around facts and data. The facts are that harsh consequences don’t affect addiction rates, and Banishment has no data to support its effectiveness yet at all – I assume someone will keep stats?? Drug addiction should be a matter of healthcare and treatment options. The rez isn’t full of big-time drug dealers – those guys live in cities like Minneapolis or Albuquerque (Hey I’ve seen Breaking Bad). I don’t have any data (maybe the aforementioned Research Office does.), but I’m guessing that most “dealers” that get caught will be small-time with little effect on overall consumption rates.
And as a final note, given our recent “Vice-Chair Removal” fiasco, how can we, the Oyate, ensure that the Code is enacted fairly and equally? Our Council, Tribal Attorneys and Court Systems have already proven themselves incapable of gathering and presenting factual evidence, and reviewing that evidence to hand down a fair and impartial judgment. Do you really think they are capable of enacting Banishment in a fair and equal manner?
1 Flute, “Press Release”, Sota Iya Ye Yapi, 9 August 2017, Accessed on 7 August 2017. [Time travel is just one of my many skills.]
2 “World Prison Populations”, BBC News. Accessed on 7 August 2017.
2 Ellis, “The High Cost of Tribal Banishment”, Indian Country Today, 7 October 2014. Accessed on 25 April 2017.