Webinar presenter David Rogers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Unsolved Homicides in Indian Country. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Is the Oliphant decision still valid today? For example, if a non-tribal person were speeding through a reservation can the tribal police stop them or cite them?
David Rogers: The answer is the Oliphant decision is very active today. And for example, on the Nez Perce reservation, if a non-tribal person is speeding or DUI or anything else and gets stopped by the Tribal Police. All the Tribal Police can do is detain them long enough to identify whether they’re tribal or not. If the offense is serious enough. They need to notify the state police or the county sheriff and try to detain them long enough for the state patrol to show up and take charge. So without a cross deputization, they don’t have any authority to do anything about that. They can do a civil citation, but a lot of tribes kind of shy away from that a civil citation means that they can cite them for speeding but it’s a civil infraction can’t do jail time, it’s a fine. And some tribes do that our tribe shied away from that.
Aaron (host): I did want to share a comment from Sheena. Sheena says not a question more of a statement. I am a Native American researcher whose goal is to bring more attention to this issue at the academic level. She appreciates webinars like this. This makes me happy that attention is being made at the federal level.
Audience Question: Is it possible for state governments to apply for tribal grants and issue awards to tribal groups that are not recognized by the federal government?
David Rogers: I think that’s a really really good question. I’m not totally sure I know the answer to that but I think any collaboration with a non-recognized tribe in the state, there are certainly funding that’s out there but you know they might not be directed specifically for a recognized tribe that they might be able to access. I think that with some of the federal funding and by gosh the federal funding has really diminished. But if you were to put together some kind of a collaborative grant proposal that had that in there, personally, if I were a peer reviewer, I would be interested in that kind of a collaboration. So yeah, I would give it a shot for sure.
Audience Question: She asks does the native Community participate and use NamUs?
David Rogers: They have begun using that. I think that is again part of that process of getting access to the databases that we’re often not allowed or there was no invite to that. One thing that that often happens is that folks are just simply not aware of some of the resources of out there. I know the FBI put together their Leo project and the FBI made a huge effort to get tribes involved in Leo and participated in a lot of the trainings that I was doing in Indian Country. They would come in and speak, I had them speak at my conferences. In part of that again, that was another avenue for information-sharing trying to get that kind of information out there. But to kind of share with you how bad it can get there, there was a community in Alaska and their tribal Community went ahead and created a police department. They have one officer he has a car but he has no radio, there’s nobody to talk to him, and he has no access to data because he’s not recognized by the state patrol. The Alaska State Troopers run most of the enforcement and Indian country. And so he drives around in his car and whoever he stops and talks to, he has absolutely no information and no communication so he can be that extreme in terms of information limits.
Audience Question: With the work that you’ve done to develop the national Indian youth police academy, how important to you see the development of justice capabilities?
David Rogers: Topic is near and dear to my heart. We started the National Indian Youth Police Academy in an effort to try to introduce Native American Youth to careers in policing. But that whole project ended up being introducing youth into how to survive their adolescent years and the policing component became kind of a secondary issue. And then we relied on a lot of funding from the COPS office for that. And then the funding kind of disappeared and I left the agencies where I was running that program. We are looking at trying to create a non-profit to re-institute that program but we’re actually changing it from policing to justice. We’re looking to create a national Justice Academy for Native American Youth to approach all angles of justice in Indian Country. I’ve kind of always had a little bit of a philosophy that says, you know, don’t rely on somebody else, you know. Sometimes you got to handle these things on your own, we’ll take that initiative and that was kind of the philosophy of our program. So I think it is still extremely vital that we have programs like that out there and our goal is to get that as a non-profit to try to seek some private funding for that program. Actually just had a phone call with a guy from Colorado on that very issue just this week.
Aaron (host): Melissa from NamUs says, “NamUs representative here, law enforcement does not need an invitation to register as a NamUs user. They only need to register via NamUs.gov”. Then Mike also said that any law enforcement agency can do this NamUs and is reaching out to tribal law enforcement agencies to become professional NamUs users.
Audience Question: Utah passed a law in 2018 to have all the cold missing and unidentified cases entered into a database. The purpose was to have all these cases in one place and to get agencies to communicate with each other. It’s a law enforcement sensitive database and she wants to know what kind of advice can you give regarding getting either cases from the Indian people or getting them to enter than themselves.
David Rogers: Well, two things one, the state database did they obviously have to have permission for that the NCIC, the federal database. They threw that Tribal Law and Order Act gave access to tribes for that once they complete the training. And I know they’ve got training going around the country this very moment getting tribes qualified to access that. But they can enter that information some of the challenges that we’re always throwing out there and I face this too. I face this from my local non-tribal law enforcement agencies that we were not good at entering accurate data. We weren’t good at extracting it getting and deleting it after a case has been resolved. We didn’t have anybody sit in the office 24 hours a day to verify it. Which was sort of true, except we did have officers out 24 hours a day. And so we face those kinds of challenges when we were trying to get information out there. So, with the access program through the Department of Justice, I think that that by developing that training and access to NCIC that that might help the state’s feel that they can work with the tribes more in making sure that that information goes in those states systems as well. And as I mentioned before there have been number of efforts by just tribes themselves willing to share information. For example, in the Northwest, we could have somebody come from the Yakama reservation come down to the Nez Perce reservation and have you know, three or four DUIs and we end up dealing with them and we will check and they will not be in the state database there would be nothing in NCIC because tribes don’t need to share they don’t have to share their court information. That’s something that a lot of tribes protect based on their Sovereign status. And so the effort was for the tribes to develop a database and then put that information in their registered sex offenders, folks that have a serious crime histories, that type of thing and another the tribes joined that and a number of tribes declined. So it’s tough. It’s a tough one.
Audience Question: Interesting couple of questions from the DNA Doe Project. The DNA Doe Project is currently working on several Native American cases and says that they are among our most challenging because they have the fewest matches. They rely on voluntary sharing of DNA tests versus via GED match and family tree to identify close relatives of the Does and then they provide that information to law enforcement for further investigation. Just wondering what more can or should law enforcement cold case investigators do to make it easier for persons of Native American descent to consider opting in for law enforcement matching with full informed consent?
David Rogers: Well, it’s like with anything that we take out there is to we have to kind of show the value and the benefit of doing certain things and in what it’s going to do to help us with our outcomes. And so, I think that’s very doable because you can see how that’s going to impact and in help with a lot of these cases if we can get a big enough database filled up with the DNA information. But again, I’m telling you, you know that we got over 570 tribes and some tribes have very specific cultural beliefs or norms that might impact that based on how they’re going to perceive it. Taking something from the body type of thing. So, I don’t know. I understand the DNA and I know how important it is. Getting it out there to increase use through Indian Country, I think it would be pretty doable but it would be a cautious approach and it would just have to be the showing the positives on it.
Audience Question: What kind of access to forensic laboratories do native law enforcement agencies have? Do they have their own forensic lab? Or do they primarily use state or FBI labs?
David Rogers: Again that varies as much as there are tribes out there. You have some tribes that have little to no access to those things. If it is a felony, of course, the FBI is going to have jurisdiction. The FBI does have access to the FBI Labs, but it really depends. I mean in Idaho, we had great FBI agents and great response and they really work hard on our cases. And so they also deputized my investigators as FBI. So they work really well together and we had access to the labs. In some areas where you don’t maybe have that relationship, access to labs can be kind of limited and sometimes if you have to use a private lab that’s going to get really expensive. It really varies on what type of jurisdiction the tribes have if they have no felony Authority at all, if they’re not cross deputized so that they can use the state lab, and if the FBI are a long ways away and don’t get there very readily, they’re kind of in a stuck situation. So it really ranges. We were really fortunate that we had such a great relationship with the FBI and their crime lab.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Unsolved Homicides in Indian Country.