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Jurisdiction over crimes on the Yakama reservation involving non-tribal members — victim or suspect — belongs to the state, the U.S. Court of Appeals recently affirmed.

At issue was language in a proclamation signed by Gov. Jay Inslee supporting retrocession — a federal process that returned to the Yakama Nation much civil and criminal authority over Native Americans on the reservation.

Inslee in his proclamation said state authorities would retain jurisdiction in cases in which victims and suspects were non-tribal members. Essentially, he meant all cases involving non-tribal members would remain under state authority.

But the tribe interpreted the proclamation to mean the state would only retain jurisdiction in cases in which both the suspect and victim were non-tribal.

Inslee later sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior in which he granted final approval of retrocession, explaining the intent of his proclamation.

On Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court ruling affirming Inslee’s intent.

“Governor Inslee’s cover letter stating his intention to retain jurisdiction where any party is a non-Indian is consistent with the Proclamation’s unambiguous language,” Justice Ryan Nelson wrote in the court of appeals’ opinion.

The Yakama Nation isn’t pleased with the ruling. Tribal leaders in a statement responding to the ruling said the tribe’s 1855 treaty is with the federal government, and that matters involving law enforcement on the 1.3-million-acre reservation should remain between the two governments.

Federal authorities often take jurisdiction in cases involving serious crimes — such as murder and rape — involving tribal members on the reservation.

“The parties to our Treaty of 1855, the Yakama Nation and the United States, should be the only parties with jurisdiction over Yakama Members within our Reservation. That was the purpose and intent of retrocession, and unfortunately that intent was not upheld,” Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin said in the statement.

The issue touched off in September 2018, when Toppenish police detained a tribal member and searched a tribal member’s property within the city to investigate the theft of the department’s bait vehicle.

Tribal police advised against such detainment and the search, saying city police lacked probable cause.

Toppenish is a municipality on the reservation, which is composed of a patchwork of tribal and nontribal land.

The tribe sued the city of Toppenish in federal court and sought an injunction barring city police from arresting tribal members on the reservation.

The tribe acquired retrocession in April 2016. Before that, the state had assumed much criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal members on the reservation under what became known as Public Law 280, federal legislation that allowed many states to assume such jurisdiction on many reservations.

Tribal leaders didn’t say whether they planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s ruling.

“We are disappointed with the decision, and are considering our legal options. Regardless, this decision has no impact on the Yakama Nation’s own jurisdiction, which we will continue to exercise in support of the public health, safety, and welfare of all Yakama Reservation residents,” Saluskin said in the statement.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @philipferolito

This article originally ran on yakimaherald.com.


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