To banish or not to banish?

Categories: Crime
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Wakinyan McArthur's rap sheet doesn't inspire much sympathy. In 1994, when he was 16 years old, McArthur shot and killed a Minneapolis woman named Stacy Rivers. After plea bargaining to a charge of second degree unintentional murder, he was sent to a group home for troubled teens and placed on probation. By 1998, McArthur was arrested again, this time on a charge of fatally shooting 21-year old Jerome Peake in a dispute over a dice game. Although a Hennepin County jury acquitted him in that killing, McArthur's probation was revoked and he was shipped off to prison, where he remained until last month.

Last month, just before McArthur's scheduled release, the Department of Corrections contacted the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe with disturbing news: McArthur--a reputed leader of the prison gang, the Native Mob--had intimated in a letter that he planned to "set up shop" on the northern Minnesota reservation. Armed with this information, the Leech Lake tribal council responded with a proposal that McArthur be prohibited from setting foot on tribal properties, including its three casinos and housing tracts.

In recent years, similar banishment proceedings have become an increasingly common crime fighting tactic in Indian Country. At least eight of Minnesota's 11 Indian governments have either enacted a banishment ordinance or actually banished individuals. The Upper Sioux Community was the latest to join the ranks, having adopted a policy last month that calls for immediate banishment of any tribal member who commits a drug crime.

All of which makes pushback at Leech Lake a little surprising. In the wake of a contentious public hearing at the Palace Casino in Cass Lake, 29 of 35 members of Leech Lake's Local Indian Councils voted against McArthur's banishment. "Under our constitution, we don't have the authority to banish anyone. It's not in there," says Arthur "Archie" LaRose, the embattled secretary-treasurer of the Leech Lake band and the only one of the five members of the Leech Lake tribal council to oppose the measure.

As it happens, LaRose--who is the second highest ranking elected official at Leech Lake--has been issued a so-called "exclusion order" that bars him from entering any of the Leech Lake casinos; he has been arrested twice for violating that order. His own history aside, LaRose argues that banishment as a tool is simply too prone to political abuse. And, he contends, McArthur and other felons who have served their sentences should be permitted to return to the reservation as a matter of basic fairness. "We have other people who've committed murders who live on the reservation. They want to punish the kid for being in a gang, not for murder," says LaRose.

Michael Garbow, the tribal attorney, says he can empathize with some of the misgivings tribal members have voiced about banishment. That said, Garbow argues, the problems of drugs and violence at Leech Lake require drastic measures: "This reservation is very enticing to these organized gangs. They've got a big market for their drugs up here and law enforcement has a tough time keeping tabs on these guys because there is a traditional distrust by Indian people of law enforcement. So they've got havens up here."

Garbow, however, has nothing but scorn for LaRose. "That boy is absolutely incapable of talking about the merits of the issue. He has to point at conspiracies and hidden agendas," says Garbow. "Archie is not about coming up with solutions. He's all about finger pointing and blame."

While the issue of McArthur's banishment has been tabled for now, it may well resurface. According to Garbow, Leech Lake Chairman George Goggleye has instructed the band's legal department to conduct further research to address specific concerns of band members. And just as important--if not more--will be the outcome of the band's upcoming elections in which LaRose and two members of the Tribal Council will battle for their seats.


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