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LCO Tribe Begins Process of Retrocession from Public Law 280

By Joe Morey

News Editor


The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) passed a directive instructing the LCO Attorney General’s Office to initiate the process of Retrocession from Public Law 280 at a special session called for that purpose on Wednesday, January 12.

LCO Secretary-Treasurer Tweed Shuman made the motion to begin the process of retrocession under federal law PL 83-280, and the measure passed with a vote of 5-0-0, with Glenda Barber being the only TGB member not in attendance. Chairman Louis Taylor only votes to break a tie.

The motion states, “to initiate the process for retrocession for federal jurisdiction with regard to state jurisdiction on tribal land.”

Wisconsin is one of the six states that Congress granted extensive criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian Country within its borders when it enacted Public Law 280 in 1953. The law allowed states to assume criminal and civil authority on reservations without tribal consent.

The law was later criticized for not considering tribal sovereignty and further complicating civil and criminal jurisdiction on reservations, so in 1968, Congress amended the law to include retrocession, a provision allowing states to return all or some jurisdiction over Native Americans back to the federal government, and essentially, to tribes.

The TGB’s actions at the special meeting were the latest steps in seeking to restore full tribal jurisdiction back to the Lac Courte Oreilles Government. TGB resolutions dating back as far 1971 indicate the intent of the tribe to assert proper jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters impacting the tribe.

In a statement from the TGB, they state, “Public Law 83-280 was passed by the Congress in 1953 during a period where states and tribes were in conflict over asserting authority over citizens. The federal law delegated federal authority over tribal affairs to state authorities. The state then shared this authority with county governments to enforce state laws on tribal lands. This delegation was an unfunded mandate as federal dollars were not allocated to states when they assumed this responsibility.”

The statement goes on to say, “In addition, this law created a jurisdictional maze for tribal and state governments because tribal authority remains unchanged under PL 280. State law was enforced by state officials while tribal law was often neglected or ignored during this delegation. Retrocession would allow for the full implementation of tribal and federal law on tribal lands.”

Retrocession under PL 280 means the delegated federal authority would be reinstated to the federal government and tribal civil and criminal jurisdiction would no longer be concurrent with the state of Wisconsin. The Attorney General’s office is directed to explore all options under retrocession, which includes an assessment of the tribe’s ability to carry out the required duties under retrocession.

Retrocession would require the Tribe to provide law enforcement, courts, probation/parole, public defender services to the community within the Tribal jurisdiction.

LCO Chairman Louis Taylor said he believes now is the time for the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe to initiate retrocession as it has the ability to develop these services. For example, plans are currently underway for construction of a new public safety center at the Four Corners in the heart of the reservation, which will include police, public safety commission, the dog pound and an impound lot, but Taylor states, holding cells could still be added to the plan which would be required under retrocession.

The LCO Tribal Court system has also recently been expanded with a larger courtroom, more room for attorney/client meetings, a larger area for the Attorney General’s offices and space could be available for a prosecutor’s office and a public defender.

Taylor said it has been an issue for many years with Tribal Membership constituting 25% of the Sawyer County population, but upwards of 85% of the jail population. In recent years, the topic of a second courtroom or larger jail have been discussed at the county level, and Taylor said the Tribe’s retrocession would eliminate that problem for the county by bringing Tribal Members and anyone else who breaks tribal laws into our own court and jail system.


"Our tribal members have experienced increased recidivism mainly due to the many years of disproportionate incarceration rates that our people have endured," added Tweed Shuman. "This only adds to the historical trauma that our people have dealt with for decades. To better care for our people, these are some of the reasons why we are looking at retrocession and exercising our sovereignty."