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Dozens of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe members and supporters rallied with state and local leaders at the Capitol on Monday over the monthslong policing dispute between Mille Lacs County and the tribe.

The band organized the rally to draw awareness about the impasse over public safety on reservation and trust lands.

After working together for 25 years under a joint law enforcement agreement, the county said it severed ties with tribal police last year because of concerns about tribal police work — concerns that tribal officials say are meritless. Since then, negotiations over a new agreement deadlocked, mediation ended in an impasse and Gov. Mark Dayton unsuccessfully intervened to urge both sides to end what he called a “public safety crisis.”

Last week, the dispute drew the attention of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who traveled to Minnesota to meet with county and band leaders separately after receiving a letter about the issue. Tribal leaders say it was the first time ever an interior secretary has visited.

“He wanted to help hammer out a solution,” Heather Swift, a department spokeswoman, said via e-mail.

On Friday, the band sued the county in federal court, asking a judge to allow tribal officers to do their jobs without interference from the county.

A mediation session is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 27.

With no working agreement with the county, the 23 tribal police officers can’t be dispatched on 911 calls, take someone to the county jail, work investigations or seek charges from the county attorney. The impasse comes amid growing opioid and heroin abuse, not just in Mille Lacs but statewide. In 2016, 66 drug overdoses were reported on the reservation, 13 resulting in death.

“All of us are impacted by this crisis,” said Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, who is a member of the White Earth band. “We have no time to waste.”

After passing burning sage and saying a blessing, the crowd at the Capitol on Monday held signs, some that read “lives over politics” and “enforce the law.” In the Capitol rotunda, they chanted: “Do the right thing, uncuff our cops.”

The dispute is part of a broader debate over reservation boundaries and long-standing strained relations between the two sides.

Tribal leaders said they are also working with lawmakers to draft legislation for the next session to make it clear the state can intervene when counties revoke agreements.

“We all want community policing,” said Robert “Deuce” Larsen, vice president of the Lower Sioux and board president of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. “This can happen to any tribe. We stand with Mille Lacs and ask all of Minnesota to do the same.”

 

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