For many Native American groups throughout the country, there are many jurisdictional issues that are faced when dealing with the law. But more so in areas where there are extremely “blotchy” justice systems, such as that of the Navajo Nation. By blotchy, I mean speckled, and by speckled, I mean all but in one area. The Navajo Nation is one of the many nations that had been subjected to removal and replacement through what is called “checkerboard jurisdiction,” which if you can imagine it, makes their lands look like a checkerboard. The Navajo people live in one “color” of land, and everyone else lives on the other to create a checkerboard effect. This was initially used as a way to “save the man, Kill the Indian” and as a way to better and more fully envelope the Native people within white society, AKA assimilation. As a result, we see these native communities living and being surrounded by non-native communities. This creates a lot of disconnect between the native communities that are of the same tribe, which leaves even more issues that are resonated throughout the area.
In dealing with the topic at hand though, there are a lot of problems with the Tribal law enforcement agencies, including those agencies that surround them. As reported by ICTMN, “It is often difficult for law enforcement officials to determine who has jurisdiction. This uncertainty has caused tension between the Navajo Nation Police Department and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, says Sheriff Ken Christesen. Navajo Nation Police Crownpoint District Captain Steven Nelson agrees.” This issue with jurisdiction is one that effects many other tribal nations as well, but specifically for the Navajo nation, there is some progress being made that should hopefully create some good for them in the future.
Maps are being passed around that show the jurisdiction of the Navajo people, but there is a question of how precise these maps actually are. In the case of Akwesasne, the maps that we have of our lands are much different than what was originally given to us for our territory. So as you might be able to guess, there are some disputable facts about the jurisdiction and territory of many Native tribes throughout the country.
Sheriff Christesen feels that right now, with police limited presence, the people who live in the area served by the substation are not receiving adequate law enforcement, citing his department’s response to more than 1,000 calls for service each year in that area. “Those people deserve quality law enforcement. I think the Navajo people are very upset, as they should be, south of Bloomfield. They were promised law enforcement and a substation but there’s no full time presence there.”
It is important to remember the many different issues that are attached to Native America, especially when it comes to dealing with the law enforcement in those areas. What is taken for granted by other communities and people is a luxury that for many Native tribes is non-existent, law enforcement with distinct and clear jurisdictional lines.