Blackfeet Tribal Council Votes to Banish Drug Dealers

Tribal business council voted last week to start banishing known drug dealers from the reservation to deal with growing drug problems

By Justin Franz

To address a growing drug problem on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the tribal council is reviving an historic punishment to banish dealers and suppliers.

On Sept. 3, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council unanimously passed a motion to ban all known drug dealers, or “undesirables,” from the reservation. Chairman Harry Barnes said banishment has been used as a punishment on the reservation before and they will start using it against accused drug dealers because federal law enforcement officials are not doing enough to prosecute them.

“The intention is to banish known drug dealers from the reservation by having law enforcement escort them to the reservation boundaries and informing them that if they come back they will be arrested,” he said.

Banishment is not a new concept in Indian Country and Barnes said it is permitted in various Blackfeet treaties with United States government. The punishment has been making a comeback in recent years to address growing drug problems on reservations across the country. The Lac du Flambeau Tribe of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin has used the practice extensively since 2013. The tribe’s official website lists more than 70 people who have been banished over the last two years.

Barnes sited a recent incident when tribal law enforcement busted a meth dealer on the reservation and confiscated numerous items that could be used to build a meth lab. But three months later, no charges have been filed against the individual. While the tribe has its own court system, it can only address misdemeanor crimes, and felonies are prosecuted at the federal level. Barnes said that means some drug cases fall through the cracks.

Now the tribal council will be able to banish people on a case-by-case basis. Barnes said if a banished individual returns to the reservation and is caught they would be arrested. He also said the tribal council only plans on banishing drug dealers and not users.

“I don’t care if we have to arrest someone five times, we’ll arrest them five times,” he said. “We’re not going out there trying to violate someone’s civil rights, we’re trying to protect our people from drug dealers who are preying on our reservation and our people.”