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Navajo Nation delegate wants tribe to oppose fugitive bill
Navajo lawmaker says federal bill violates tribal sovereignty
FARMINGTON — A member of the Navajo Nation Council is asking fellow lawmakers to oppose a federal bill that would give federal law enforcement officials the authority to enter reservation boundaries to apprehend individuals avoiding arrest, prosecution or incarceration.
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., introduced H.R. 4864 — or the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act of 2018 — in January as a way to address concerns about suspects fleeing to tribal lands to evade arrest.
Delegate Edmund Yazzie said he opposes the measure because it violates tribal sovereignty.
Noem introduced the bill after she and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the bill's cosponsor, met with law enforcement representatives to talk about drug crime and challenges facing officers in South Dakota.
"Today, we have fugitives hiding in plain sight. The way the system is set up, violent criminals can use Indian Country as a haven to evade law enforcement. That policy poses a serious and concerning public safety threat to tribal communities," Noem said in a press release from her office.
She added the legislation "closes this dangerous loophole once and for all."
The two-page bill does not address tribes that have extradition laws, and a spokeswoman for Noem did not respond to questions on Friday.
Yazzie said in a telephone interview Friday he opposes the House bill because it violates tribal sovereignty and ignores tribal extradition procedures.
In response, he is sponsoring legislation in the tribal council that requests the Navajo Nation oppose Noem's bill.
Yazzie serves as chairman of the council's Law and Order Committee, and he is a former deputy for the McKinley County Sheriff's Office. During his law enforcement career, he said he witnessed law enforcement agencies and the district attorney in Gallup follow the tribe's extradition process to apprehend suspects on the reservation.
His bill calls for opposition to the federal measure because he said Noem's legislation violates the treaty between the Navajo Nation and the United States, and it violates the inherent sovereign right for self-determination and self-government over land and tribal members.
The bill also states the House proposal will override tribal extradition laws, including tribal presidential authority, and it will weaken the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the United States.
"Sovereignty is being violated. …The government in (Washington) D.C. has got to understand sovereignty," Yazzie said.
The bill is eligible for consideration by the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, whose membership consists of the 24 delegates, starting on Tuesday.
Yazzie said if his bill is passed, it will be submitted to President Russell Begaye for his review.
"We're trying to push this through so we can send a statement to D.C.," he said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.