Friday, February 09, 2007

Chief Hicks taking the right road again.......

(02/08/07E -- RALEIGH) - Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who are convicted of drug dealing will be banished from the reservation under a law signed Thursday by the tribe's principal chief.

The Tribal Council will be able to determine the length of an exclusion, and a member convicted of dealing drugs will be able to petition the panel to return.

Banishment is a harsh penalty previously reserved for extreme circumstances -- such as when a member is convicted of committing a sexual offense against minors.
"Exclusion is rare -- up to now," said Michael McConnell, attorney general for the tribe. "It's a very serious thing."

Non-members can also face banishment under the law. Those suspected of dealing drugs could be immediately removed from the reservation and may only return for court hearings, according to the law set to take effect in April.

The Controlled Substances Act, first approved by the Tribal Council last week, allows the tribe to hand out stronger punishments while still following federal regulations. Federal law only allows the tribe to sentence people to a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of $5,000.
"But the tribe's most powerful -- and one of the remaining inherent powers we have -- is to say who can be here and who can't," McConnell said.

Banished members will still be able to retain their tribal membership and benefits. However, McConnell noted that a member banished from the tribe faces exclusion from their people and their homeland -- a severe punishment.

"The public outcry is that we need to set a standard that sends a strong message to those trafficking drugs in our community," said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. "We're not going to stand for it."

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a membership of about 13,500. Its land about 50 miles west of Asheville near the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Though the tribal law may dump drug offenders to nearby counties, Sheriff Jimmy Ashe in neighboring Jackson County said he welcomed any efforts to clamp down on the drug trade.
"Drug dealers know no boundaries," Ashe said. "We embrace (the law) as a good way for the Cherokee community to impress that they won't stand for drug dealing."

Similar laws have been adopted by the Lummi Nation of Washington, Upper Sioux Community in Minnesota, and the Chippewa of Grand Portage, Minn. The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe in Nevada has been considering a banishment law.

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