Law Enforcement on the Reservation is complicated, and there is no shortage of it. I grew up in a County Seat, so my hometown had an extra share. We had City Police, County Sheriff’s Office, State Police, Tribal Police, and because the city was on Tribal Land, the Feds had several offices. All American Indian Reservations have a Federal Government Presence.

Because of the oversaturation of law enforcement, a simple 911 call could result in something resembling a domestic terrorist attack. And yes, as a youngster, I found myself entangled in such matters on more than one occasion. By the time I was barely 19, I’d already been shot at and stabbed. You don’t want to know what it’s like to stare down a 30/30 lever action rifle inside a small living room. I’m saving the rest of that story for later.

Violence is ever-present on the Rez. Drugs, Alcohol, and Domestic Violence are common. I cannot remember a single house party in which someone didn’t get hurt. Beatings and stabbings were the norms. There was always someone trying to fight the entire house.

If we weren’t drinking indoors, we were out in the boonies. Keg Parties [kegger] were common. Picture anywhere from 10 to 50 young people standing around a large fire and drinking keg after keg of draft beer. Fights were common, usually over a woman, of course. Something about drinking out in the country is magical, especially when we’re teenagers.

I’m unsure if policies vary from Reservation to Reservation, but back home, things usually [but not always] went like this. If the local city authorities picked up a tribal member, the officers would hold the individual on scene temporarily until the Tribal Police arrived. The tribal member would then be transferred to a local Tribal jail for processing. I’ve heard stories of Native American Women being raped by white officers in the city jail.

Montana is littered with obscure and less-traveled gravel roads. Throughout highschool, we would gas up and explore these roads until Sunrise. Sometimes while drinking cases of beer, but smoking a bag of joints was our favorite. Oh yes, night after night, my buddies and I would drive the back roads in a 1969 Impala while listening to Rock and smoking weed.

It wasn’t uncommon for my friends and me to get pulled over by Tribal Police while cruising the back roads of the Reservation. Fortunately, most of my buddies were tribal members. A few of them had relatives on the Tribal Police Force. On one particular night, we were pulled over and released at least three times by the same police officer. Each time, my friend was scolded and told to go home. Not only were we stoned out of our minds, but his car had a broken windshield.

Alcohol, Marijuana, LSD, and Mushrooms. These were the drugs we used throughout my teenage years. From the age of 13 to 16, I smoked weed nearly every day. When I quit smoking weed, I quit for good. Except for a few rare occasions, I haven’t gone back, not even during my heavy drug use years.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you probably already know I have some drug history. I’ve been sober for 30 months, but my history is intense. That history is rooted in the Reservation.

Joseph Shanklin

July 4, 2021

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