CSKT Statement Regarding Public Law 280

(Pablo, Mont.) – On March 1, 2024, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte provided correspondence to the Lake County Board of Commissioners that the State of Montana plans to retrocede from the termination-era policy known as Public Law 280 (PL 280) on the Flathead Indian Reservation.  The Governor’s letter was in response to Lake County’s November 2023 notice of withdrawal of consent to enforce Public Law 280. Under state law, Governor Gianforte has until May 20, 2024 to issue an official proclamation recognizing the County’s withdrawal.

At this point in the process, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) continue to collaborate with all jurisdictions across the Reservation to provide robust law enforcement services and ensure the safety of all citizens in our communities.

“Our focus on public safety remains steadfast regardless of the status of PL 280,” said CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Michael Dolson.  “We are committed to security in our communities.  As the process unfolds, we continue to prepare and shape jurisdictional considerations for the future.”

During this transition, CSKT is offering technical, legal, and personnel resources as the Tribes work with state and federal partners to determine a solid path forward.

“Currently the Tribes provide the core of law enforcement as a critical benefit across the Reservation, using CSKT dollars and CSKT personnel, at the highest-quality standard, and serving tribal and non-tribal citizens,” said CSKT Tribal Police Chief Craige Couture.  “When there is a call for emergency services, tribal officers are there making our communities more secure.  The status of PL 280 does not change our mission, and we remain dedicated to the longstanding collaborative partnerships we have established with other jurisdictions, which is evidenced by the fact that we already conduct the majority of criminal investigations on the Reservation—again using CSKT resources and funding.”

Through our recent memorandum of understanding, CSKT reaffirmed the commitment to work collaboratively with other jurisdictions to ensure public safety across the Flathead Indian Reservation, including with federal and state entities, Flathead County, Missoula County, Sanders County, Hot Springs, Ronan, Polson, St. Ignatius, and with Lake County.

CSKT also continues to exercise its exclusive misdemeanor jurisdiction and concurrent felony jurisdiction over members of federally recognized tribes.  In 1994, CSKT retroceded from the State’s misdemeanor jurisdiction, meaning that the Tribes took back misdemeanor jurisdiction over members of federally recognized tribes. Since that time, CSKT has had exclusive misdemeanor jurisdiction and shares felony jurisdiction with the State and, in some instances, the federal government over offenses allegedly committed by members of federally recognized tribes which occur within the exterior boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

“Public safety is vital to the quality of life for all citizens. CSKT continues to provide leadership as we move through the last vestiges of this termination-era policy that has run its course,” said Dolson.  “We appreciate all the work that many people, across several different governments, have contributed. We appreciate the partnership of the stakeholders as we determine the best public policy moving forward.”

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