A water tower on the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa. Photo: Billwhittaker
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Meskwaki Tribe praises action on bill to remove state jurisdiction on settlement

A bill to repeal one of the vestiges of the termination era is inching forward in Congress.

On November 1, the House passed H.R.1074 by a voice vote. The bill repeals a 1948 federal law that authorized the state of Iowa to prosecute citizens of the Meskwaki Nation for crimes that occur on their settlement.

States typically lack jurisdiction in Indian Country. But the 1948 law was enacted during a period in which the federal government was eagerly relinquishing its trust and treaty responsibilities.

Federal policy has since shifted toward self-determination and the tribe has established its own law enforcement and court system. Repealing the termination era law will help advance those efforts, Chairman Alvin Wildcat said.

“Today marks a major step forward in our effort to restore a piece of our sovereignty and provide better law enforcement services on our settlement," Wildcat said in a press release after the House took action last week.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Debate on H.R.1074 - Meskwaki Nation Jurisdiction Bill

The message was echoed by Rep. Doug Blum (R-Iowa), who introduced H.R.1047 in February. The Meskwaki Settlement is located within his district in Iowa.

"With respect to the law enforcement on the settlement today, a lot has changed since 1948," Blum said on the floor of the House. "Today, the tribe has a fully-functional criminal justice system, which includes a full-time police department whose officers are certified by the state of Iowa. The tribe maintains and employs law-trained judges and a prosecutor who, together with a probation department, handle all criminal cases which arise on tribal lands."

Repealing the 1948 law has another benefit. Rep. Norma Torres (D-California) noted that Meskwaki citizens, unlike non-Natives, face the prospect of being prosecuted twice for crimes on their own lands.

"The continued existence of the 1948 Act has resulted in an unfair system of crimes committed on Meskwaki land, whereby a Native-American defendant must face the possibility of two prosecutions, state and tribal, but a non-Native defendant faces only state prosecution," said Torres, who is the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.

The House passed H.R.1074 under a suspension of the rules. The process is typically used for non-controversial bills.

A companion version, S.381, was approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on March 29. That bill has not yet been brought up for consideration in the Senate.

The state of Iowa already relinquished its jurisdiction on the settlement. The last step in the process would be for Congress to repeal the 1948 law.

"We remain hopeful that the U.S. Senate will follow the House’s lead on this issue," said Chairman Wildcat.

The state will continue to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians on the settlement if the 1948 law is repealed.

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