New Town Murder Is An Argument Against Tribal Sovereignty Over Criminal Matters


One of the issues in the Senate race between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Rick Berg was the issue of tribal sovereignty over crimes of domestic and sexual violence on Indian reservations. The tribes want jurisdiction over non-tribal members who commit those sort of crimes on reservations, and Heitkamp agreed with them hitting Berg for his opposition to it suggesting that he’s soft on domestic violence (it was a part of Heitkamp’s overall “war on women” strategy).

But there are a lot of good reasons to oppose giving the tribes jurisdiction over non-tribal members. For one thing, tribal courts and juries are made up exclusively of tribal members, meaning that a non-tribal member would by definition not be getting tried by a jury of his/her peers, a right guaranteed in the Constitution.

For another, tribal law enforcement is notoriously lax and corrupt. Case in point, the 21-year-old Kalcie Eagle who is now a “person of interest” in the murder of a grandmother and her three grand children on the Forth Berthold Reservation in New Town (Eagle killed himself in Parshall after the murders) had led state law enforcement officials on a 100 mile high speed chase which ended on the reservation, at which point he was turned over to tribal law enforcement:

Law enforcement officials in the area were familiar with Kalcie Eagle, [Mountrail County Sheriff Ken] nHalvorson said. In March, Eagle was arrested after leading authorities on a 100-mile, high-speed chase in western North Dakota in a stolen pickup truck pulling a trailer, Halvorson said.

Since the arrest happened on the reservation, Eagle was turned over to tribal authorities. It isn’t known where the case stands, as tribal authorities did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday.

“He made it to the reservation,” Halvorson said. “That was his goal.”

Sheriff Halvorson’s words are a grim reminder of the havens of crime and corruption many reservations are. That a tribal member would lead law enforcement on a 100 mile chase with the objective of making it to the reservation speaks volumes about the state of law and order there.

Or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of law and order. And I write that as someone who was banished from an Indian reservation in the state, without due process, for writing something the tribe found objectionable. I am intimately familiar with problems some tribes have with fidelity to the law.

If Kalcie Eagle is proven to be the murderer in this tragic case, perhaps some ought to ask why Mr. Eagle wasn’t already in jail.

It might be time for some pointed questions about why crime rates are so much higher on North Dakota’s reservations as opposed to the rest of the state. It has nothing to do with race, I believe, and everything to do with crippling poverty perpetuated by and endless stream of government programs and entitlements.

Update: Per a criminal records search, it does appear as though Mr. Eagle was tried in ND District Court and sentenced to a year in jail with 10 months suspended. Still, Sheriff Halvorson’s words speak volumes about the status of the reservations as safe havens for criminals in many instances.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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