YOU’RE OUTTA HERE
It is happening all over rural Alaska at an increasing rate: Tribal councils get together, make a decision, and give some bad actor the boot. Law and order in Native villages is different when there’s no State Trooper post.
But in a new twist, Togiak Tribal Council banished a crusty older white Alaskan, a longterm resident of the community.
Togiak is a second class city of about 850 people. It’s also a village. It has a tribal council and a Village Public Safety Officer, which is a quasi-police officer.
Ronald Oertwich, 73, was accused by the council of bringing alcohol into the dry village, and was banished illegally, said his lawyer, David Henderson.
Oertwich runs a bed-and-breakfast in Togiak and makes his living off the sports fishing enthusiasts who come there to catch rainbow trout, dolly varden, silver and king salmon. His customers are non-Native.
The facts are murky but Oertwich has apparently been kicked out twice in recent weeks. The first time he ended up in the nearest town, Dillingham, which is where he called Anchorage personal injury lawyer Henderson for advice.
Henderson told him the village council had no authority to remove him from the village and that he should return.
After all, Oertwich has a tourism business to run and the season is ramping up.
Oertwich did return on Henderson’s advice, and that’s when community members detained him and kept him locked up in a holding cell, where he slept on a thin mat for six days. A diabetic, he had trouble getting the medicine he needs, Henderson said.
After six days, they bound him with duct tape, dragged him to an airplane, and sent him back to Dillingham.
There is no State Trooper post in Togiak, but according to Henderson, the Troopers were notified of the incident while it was under way. “I contacted the Troopers and they said they would not get involved, that I could contact the tribe, or FBI, and make a civil rights complaint,” he said.
There may be several entities that took part in the incident, which some critics say has important constitutional questions. The village council was allowed by the City of Togiak to use its jail. The Village Public Safety Officer may have been involved in hauling Oertwich into the jail. The Troopers knew of the case but may have decided it was a tribal matter. Henderson was told that the Attorney General’s office had been contacted, but didn’t take action.
While he was being held, Oertwich was not charged with a crime nor allowed an arraignment, according to Henderson, who is still trying to gather the facts on who all was involved, who knew what and when.
Within a few weeks, Oertwich may have a wrongful imprisonment or kidnapping case to file against several entities, including State agencies. At the very least, he has a civil rights case.
“The tribe had no lawful authority over a non tribal member,” Henderson said. “They locked him up in a jail cell, he had no due process, no attorney, no charges. The Supreme Court has ruled that tribes do not have lawful authority over nontribal members.”
RURAL JUSTICE: MOVE PROBLEM PEOPLE ALONG
Togiak is in Southwestern Alaska, and has banished others in recent years. But Togiak is not the only village to do so.
Back in 1994, two teens from the village of Klawock were banished to an uninhabited island for a year by their tribe. They had allegedly robbed and beaten a pizza delivery man in Snohomish, Wash. It made national news, but the two never spent their entire year on the island.
Quinhagak banished six people last year after heroin started showing up in the village, leading to several overdoses and one death.
Last year, Derek Adams was banished from three communities — Nunam Iqua, Emmonak, and Alakanuk, after his involvement in an arson fire that led to three deaths in Nunam Iqua, a village at the mouth of the Yukon River.
This February, four people were kicked out of Allakaket, as they were reported to have brought methamphetamines into the Interior village.
The State of Alaska generally tries to stay out of tribal politics, but the case law is unclear on whether tribal justice supercedes the U.S. Constitution, and whether it applies to tribal members and nontribal members alike.
In 2003, Judge Peter Michalski refused to dismiss a 2001 injunction he had issued on behalf of Perryville, about 200 miles southwest of King Salmon.
The village had banned John Tague. In upholding his injunction, Michalski wrote, “The law allows a tribe to ‘regulate the internal affairs of its members.’ ”
He referenced a 1999 case, John vs. Baker, where the Alaska Supreme Court recognized the sovereignty of tribal courts. But that case has never been tested in a higher court.
The administration of Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 established an 11-member Governor’s Tribal Advisory Council and he told media this week that he would be meeting with the council to discuss the matter.
Must Read Alaska has asked Walker’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall if that meeting took place, but did not get a response by publication this morning.
Must Read Alaska has asked the Attorney General’s office for an update on the case but did not get a response.