Tester, Tribal Prosecutors Assoc. meet, discuss future

Havre Daily News

by Zach White

There may not be a new sheriff in town, but the lawyers have got a new posse going.

As a part of his tour of the Hi-Line over the past few days, Sen. Jon Tester stopped by Stone Child College, on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, Thursday, to see what had come out of a meeting of the tribal prosecutors from Montana’s seven Indian reservations.

This meeting was the first time that the Tribal Prosecutors Association, with members from Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Blackfeet, Flathead, Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, had met face to face, and discussed common issues.

“We’ve got a great table of people that know what’s going on in Indian country, ” Tester told the group shortly before meeting’s end.

He said he had heard a lot of good ideas, and looked forward to more input as he got back to Washington and his work on the Committee on Indian Affairs.

The senator’s visit was the cap on a meeting that began at 9 a. m. Thursday.

The prosecutors had filled one wall of the college’s conference room with large sheets of paper filled with ideas, problems and solutions that each brought from their respective reservations.

Discussions included issues including jurisdictions, or working with local or federal authorities, and the types of crimes being prosecuted. But one of the biggest topics was funding.

“Funding is definitely crucial, ” Diane Cabrera, Crow tribal prosecutor, said after the meeting. “We need to be able to attract talented people and make sure the standards of prosecutors is, at a minimum, professional.”

Tester agreed that funding was an important part of the discussion, especially with money tight at all levels of government.

“We’ve heard a lot about funding in here, that’s for sure, ” Tester said.

The senator admitted that it would be a challenge in finding that funding’s place while other programs are being cut down across the board, “but we’ll never be able to consider it if we don’t at least propose it.”

He said that, in a larger sense, the economies of these reservations are vital to the conversation.

“As long as you have the kind of unemployment that you see on these reservations, 50, 60, 70 percent, you are going to have the same kinds of problems with law and order,” Tester said.

Whatever can or will be done by the Tribal Prosecutors Association, it’s members and the senator are excited by the prospects, including Blackfeet prosecutor Carl Pepion.

“This is one of the most beneficial meetings I’ve seen. We need to pull together, ” Pepion said, just before adjourning. “Though it will take a while to build, I’m looking forward to meeting again.”