The Iowa Senate has passed a bill that calls on congress to give more judicial power to the Meskwaki tribe on its settlement near Tama.
A 1948 federal law put the federal government and the State of Iowa in charge of policing the settlement and prosecuting crimes by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.
“Since the passage of the 1948 law that tribe has established its own police force. All their law enforcement officers are trained at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy,” said Senator Steve Sodders, a Democrat from State Center who is also a deputy sheriff. “A tribal court has been established and all the judges of the tribal court are law trained.”
Sodders, who represents the settlement, said the tribe now has an attorney general and public defenders as well. The bill calls on congress to allow the tribe’s legal system to handle the prosecution and punishment of “misdemeanor” crimes committed by Meskwakis against Meskwakis. The State of Iowa would prosecute crimes committed on the settlement which involve people who are not members of the tribe. Major felonies like murder would be handled in state or federal courts.
The Senate passed the bill on a 41-6 vote. Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, was a no. He said it’s a bad precedent.
“My concern is if we have different laws in this area for different people, what’s to stop some other group from asking for the same privilege?” Garrett asked. “Why not?”
Senator Charles Schneider, a Republican from West Des Moines, argued for the bill.
“They have their own criminal courts and they have their own criminal code,” Schneider said. “Therefore I think it’s only just and right to give them the opportunity have the exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed by tribe members against tribe members on tribe land.”
A resolution that’s similar to this bill passed the Iowa House and Senate last year. According to the tribe’s website, there are nearly 1400 enrolled tribal members and the Meskwaki Nation owns over 8000 acres of land in Tama County and Palo Alto County.