Several years ago I was involved with a man who was believed to know something about certain crimes which were under the jurisdiction of the federal government. He was questioned several times by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agents. Two of those federal agents also visited me at work to question me.
I am not easily intimidated. One of those agents had come all the way from Quantico, Virginia because the case involved a suspect who had committed crimes in several states (the perpetrator was eventually caught and jailed). The other agent was a local guy out of Pierre and one I recognized as the dude who came into my yard to peer inside my house windows on one occasion.
When the agent informed me he was from the Behavior Analysis Unit (a place made famous through a weekly television series), I made a conscious effort to remain open in terms of body language as I had nothing to hide. The case under investigation did not involve me. Still, I noted how he carefully observed my non-verbal reactions to his questions. And even though I did not give much away in terms of body language, my voice remained very sarcastic.
At the end of the interview, he judged me as “hostile.” I asked him if he could blame me considering all the grief the organization he worked for had brought to my people. He just laughed arrogantly and stated that he was “from the new FBI where things had changed.”
Well, nothing much has changed in terms of the jurisdiction the federal government has over Indian Country. The federal government took jurisdiction away from certain tribes in the 19th century as a result of a murder case on the Rosebud Reservation.
“The Major Crimes Act (U.S. Statutes at Large, 23:385) is a law passed by the United States Congress in 1885. It places 7 major crimes under federal jurisdiction if they are committed by a Native American against another Native American in Native territory. The crimes which fell under federal jurisdiction were:
Murder, Manslaughter, Rape, Assault with intent to commit murder, Arson, Burglary, Larceny.
“The act was passed in response to the Supreme Court of the United States’ affirmation of tribal sovereignty in their ruling in Ex parte Crow Dog (109 U.S. 556 (1883)), wherein they overturned the federal court conviction of Brule Lakota sub-chief Crow Dog, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of principal chief Spotted Tail on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Dakota Territory. The Court reasoned that the ability of the tribe to deal with such an offense was an attribute of tribal sovereignty that had not been specifically abrogated by an act of Congress.
“The Major Crimes Act reduced the internal sovereignty of native tribes by removing their ability to try and to punish serious offenders in Indian country. The theory underlying it was that Indian tribes were not competent to deal with serious issues of crime and punishment. The constitutionality of the Major Crimes Act was upheld in United States v. Kagama (118 U.S. 375 (1886)), a case in which two Indians were prosecuted for killing another Indian on a reservation. While the Court agreed that the prosecution of major crimes did not fall within Congress’s power to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes, it ruled that the trust relationship between the federal government and the tribes conferred on Congress both the duty and the power to regulate tribal affairs.”
This legislation has had a major impact upon our people. Recently, I attended a federal court sentencing hearing wherein the judge stated there was no single victim involved in the crime committed by the defendant – the actual damage had supposedly been done to the United States Government. I thought it ridiculous to attempt to depict the US government as a victim! What about the Indian people victimized by that same US government?
Also, I’m not a lawyer. But I do have a word of common sense on answering questions during FBI interrogations – never let them intimidate you! I believe I can speak for many of you who wonder why it is a crime for someone to tell lies to a federal agent but it is not against the law for them to lie to you. Double standards usually breed corruption.
Have any of you experienced an interrogation by federal agents where you were taken to another jurisdiction (like the next county over) to be questioned? Did your interview take place in one of those SUV’s with dark tinted windows in an extremely isolated area out on the prairie? Did the federal agent become highly agitated when you refused to answer questions? Authority also breeds ego and many lack integrity when they are performing their duties. In my personal opinion, the entire law enforcement and court systems – whether they be tribal, state, county or federal – are corrupt in many ways.
Furthermore, in terms of the number of Indian people sentenced to prison, the argument always surfaces about how much influence historical and/or intergenerational
trauma has had on the fact that so many of our people are behind bars. For instance, it is believed that some people commit crimes because of the atrocities our people experienced a long time ago. Others are victimized as children and grow up to be adult offenders.
I do believe it is a fact that historical trauma continues to affect us. Yet, it is also up to us to begin the healing process. Intergenerational trauma is not going to magically disappear. We must take the first steps on our healing journey.
And what about the contemporary trauma being inflicted by the unscrupulous interrogation tactics used by federal agents? Please learn how to deal with people who are paid to intimidate or bully others.
Personally, I believe it is an individual form of protest to NOT be intimidated by federal agents. I pray for these people daily. They desperately need it.