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With overdoses at epidemic levels on Red Lake reservation, council passes new rules for banishing drug dealers

RED LAKE—Red Lake's Tribal Council officially established a protocol Tuesday, Aug. 8, to be used when banishing tribal members who sell drugs.

The council unanimously voted to approve the new process—which was created in response to the opioid epidemic sweeping the reservation and the state as a whole—during its regular monthly meeting.

Banishment has been a potential consequence facing Red Lake drug dealers since 2003, according to the tribe's legal adviser Michelle Paquin, but a protocol was never put in place.

The tribe declared a state of emergency July 11 following a handful of overdoses across the reservation. A newspaper report said Red Lake band member Ryan Neadeau Sr.—who organized a march for sobriety in July—said almost 36 people have overdosed in the past six months.

"Because of the public health state of emergency, prosecution, law enforcement and the court said we probably should develop a process," Paquin said. "If we're in that dire of a state, you know, we need to use all remedies available."

Paquin emphasized the difference between banishment and disenrollment. Even if a person is banished, she said, they remain a tribal member.

For a banishment to take place, tribal police or prosecutors must submit a petition to the tribal secretary alleging that an individual is engaging in some sort of drug-related activity. Once the petition is filed, it would kick off a proceeding similar to a civil hearing, where law enforcement would have to show that it is more likely than not that the subject of the banishment was dealing drugs.

The Tribal Council would then choose whether to banish the person, and for how long.

"Just because they bring the petition doesn't mean the council has to order banishment," Paquin said. "They could hear a very compelling case...a person says, maybe, 'I'm going to change my ways, my family is too important to me, my home is too important to me, I can't make it on the outside, this is my homeland.'"

A banishment term must be at least one year, but no more than five. For the banishment to be lifted, the subject must submit a petition six months in advance showing that they are rehabilitated.

There is no threshold to determine the level of conduct that could result in a banishment; decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, Paquin said.

"We would be, as a nation, foolish to ban somebody for a very small amount (of drugs)," she said. "It's just one tool to take out somebody who's doing a lot of people."

In addition to the banishment protocol, Red Lake plans to ramp up the use of other programs to combat the drug epidemic. Paquin said the tribe is searching for money to open a suboxone clinic to treat opioid addiction, and is working to motivate pregnant women with chemical dependency issues to seek treatment.

"(Banishment) is just one piece of maybe taking some people who are really committed to being drug dealers and addicts and sellers," Paquin said. "But the rest of the community has to heal, which is really sort of the bulk of what has to happen."

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
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