Sac & Fox Tribe welcomes passage of Senate Bill 381

Criminal jurisdiction for certain Native-on-Native crimes in Meskwaki territory to return to tribe

News Release

Office of the Meskwaki Nation

The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi welcomes the passage of Senate Bill 381 by the United States Senate on November 27, 2018. A companion bill had previously been passed by the United States House of Representatives and the bill now moves on for signature by the President. The bill overturns a previous federal law passed in 1948.

“For generations, we took care of our own criminal issues and problems and shared jurisdiction over crimes committed on the Settlement with the federal government.” Said Tribal Chairman Anthony Waseskuk. This all changed in 1948, when the federal government passed a one-sentence law and gave the State of Iowa criminal jurisdiction over the Settlement.”

In many states, Native American tribes have criminal jurisdiction for certain crimes committed by Native Americans against Native Americans on their own territory. This has not always been the case in Iowa, however, due to the federal law enacted in 1948.

In 1948, Congress enacted a law granting Iowa, rather than the Meskwaki tribe, concurrent jurisdiction for criminal offenses occurring on Meskwaki territory, but retaining federal jurisdiction for offenses against federal law. At the time, the tribe did not have its own police force or court system.

“Seventy years after passage of the 1948 Act, the Settlement is a much different place.” continued Tribal Chairman Waseskuk, “The Meskwaki Nation now operates and maintains a fully functional criminal justice system including a court system with law trained judges, prosecutors and public defenders. Our police officers are certified law enforcement officers by the State of Iowa and provide 24 hour police protection to the community.”

Despite making great strides and progress in developing its own criminal justice system, the ramifications of the 1948 Act continued to plague effective law enforcement and the implementation of a criminal justice system on the Meskwaki Settlement.

The ‘48 Act had created a dual-concurrent criminal justice system composed of both tribal and state justice systems. Because a criminal case could be brought both in state court and in tribal court, a Native American defendant who committed an offense on the Settlement would face the possibility of two prosecutions. One prosecution by the state and one by the tribe.

“This was simply unfair and unjust” said Attorney General for the Tribe, Jay Finch. “It resulted in Native Americans being prosecuted twice for the same offense on their own land while non-natives were prosecuted merely once in state court. Being prosecuted twice for the same offense in turn led to additional fines, court costs and incarceration for the Native American defendant.”  Finch added.

Something had to be done. So in 2016, the Tribe began working on getting the support of the State of Iowa.

In 2017 the State of Iowa approved legislation signed into law by then Governor Terry Brandstad calling on Congress to repeal the 1948 law. Since 1948, Congress had never appropriated funds to State of Iowa to prosecute criminal cases which arose on the Settlement and the burden of doing so had fallen on the County of Tama. The passage of the ’48 Act hadn’t been fair to the State of Iowa either who had never been consulted prior to its passage. 

“It’s been a very long battle and journey and we are happy that soon another piece of the tribe’s sovereignty which had at one time been taken away has now been restored.” remarked Chairman Waseskuk.

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