May/June 2013
Spirit Lake Reservation: Eye-Opening Experience

Arranging a visit to the Spirit Lake Tribe Reservation with our summer externs—first- and second-year law students—turned out to be a highlight for not only them but also for the judges and law clerks who made the trip. Little did we know that within a few weeks this tribe would be under scrutiny for the death of a child, and Tribal Judge Shirley Cain ousted by the tribal council. Our itinerary and the 130-mile trip demanded that we leave at 7:00 a.m. in two state vans provided by UND Law School and several USM vehicles. Everyone was prepared for the trip with a pre-reading packet that was required reading for everyone—several court cases and a synopsis of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012 addressing tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence.

Our visit to Spirit Lake began with a frank chat at the Tribal Judicial Center with Judge Shirley Cain (below). Judge Cain explained the lack of separation of powers between the judiciary and tribal council. She also spoke about the difficulty of enforcing an Anglo adversarial system of criminal justice onto a culture that traditionally used a tribal talking circle to resolve disputes. Her goal is to combine the best of both systems. After Tribal Court, we were hosted at Spirit Lake Casino by Manager Paul Matheny. Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton and Matheny extended hospitality from the tribe and welcomed our group. Both spoke during lunch about the challenges that they face and pointed to the strides that they have made using profits from the casino to benefit the tribe.

Immediately after lunch we stopped at the Law Enforcement Center. There are only four tribal police officers for a reservation that extends over 405 square miles. (Within the exterior boundaries there are a total of 245,141 acres.) A new jail exists but cannot open as the tribe does not have the personnel to maintain and oversee the prisoners. Our group finished the day with a visit to Cankdeska Cikana Community Tribal College. President Cynthia Lindquist shared her vision for the college and showed us the results of her grant writing expertise. Dr. Lindquist encourages accountability and provides programs to pursue a two year degree as well as certifications leading toward new job opportunities. Her success is evident everywhere in this beautiful building perched on top of a North Dakota bluff. The school is now accredited through The Higher Learning Commission, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of several tribal associations.