Mille Lacs Ojibwe fighting violent offenders with banishment

Native Mob gang terrorizing Minnesota reservation

Sam overheard one of the men say they had stopped the wrong car, but that didn't faze the one with the gun. Sam was able to escape only because one of the gunman's accomplices physically restrained him. "Go, go, go!" her savior ordered, and Sam sped off, ducking down in her seat for fear they would begin shooting.

Though Sam escaped unharmed, she told the court that she now had to take medication to fall asleep at night. She also heard rumors that her house was going to be "shot up."

"Where am I supposed to live, and who else should I fear?" she asked the courtroom.

Benjamin Garbow, Patrick Provo Jr., and Zachary Nayquonabe were among the first to qualify for banishment
courtesy of Mille Lacs County Jail
Benjamin Garbow, Patrick Provo Jr., and Zachary Nayquonabe were among the first to qualify for banishment
Boarded-up homes across the reservation have been covered in grafitti
Andy Mannix
Boarded-up homes across the reservation have been covered in grafitti

The three carjackers—Benjamin Garbow, Patrick Provo Jr., and Zachary Nayquonabe—were among the first to qualify under the tribe's criteria for banishment.

"They were looking for the people who committed crime after crime after crime," explains Tribal Police Chief Dwight Reed.

The posse members' criminal histories spoke for themselves. Nayquonabe, only 20 at the time, had been busted for DWI, theft, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Provo had been convicted of two assaults. Earlier that month, he had been arrested by tribal police and blamed his sister, Heather, for letting him sit in jail. When he got out, he waited for her in their parents' driveway.

"You left me hanging!" he screamed, according to police.

Heather reminded her brother that she was pregnant.

"I don't care!" replied Patrick.

Just before the confrontation got physical, their dad came out of the house and kicked Patrick off his property. Given Patrick's history of violence, his sister called police, and Patrick was charged with a felony for domestic assault. At the time of his arrest, his blood-alcohol level was .245.

Garbow, the third carjacker, had been released from prison a few months earlier after serving three years for beating someone half to death with a tire iron.

In August 2008, a tribal judge excluded the three men from the reservation along with one other tribe member, marking the Ojibwe's first modern banishments. The judge ordered another banishment that October. The tribe is now in the process of banishing Darrick Williams, a 20-year-old tribe member who police say punched an Ojibwe woman so hard, he knocked one of her teeth clean out of her gums. After Williams's case is resolved, tribal police have a long list of new names to submit to the court for exile.

ON MAY 9, 2009, police got a report that a tribe member named Blaine Beaulieu had just beaten up a 17-year-old kid.

Beaulieu's was a familiar name to tribal police. He had been convicted of more than a dozen crimes, including two DWIs and eight assaults of varying degrees.

The cops received a tip that Beaulieu was holed up in a hotel room in Grand Casino, and broke in the door to arrest him.

"Wait until I see you without that badge," he threatened one officer as they escorted him to jail in handcuffs.

In the case of Beaulieu, the tribe couldn't banish him—he had already been banished seven months earlier. This was Beaulieu's third arrest on the reservation since he'd been exiled, which highlights a flaw of banishment.

"It's impossible to just sit around and patrol for people who have been excluded," says Matthew Fletcher, a tribal law professor from Michigan State University who studies banishment.

The difficulty of enforcement is just one reason that banishment is controversial among tribal law experts. As the ancient practice has been revived by tribes in Minnesota and across the country in the past decade, many have also questioned whether it's the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment.

The definition of a banishment or exclusion changes from tribe to tribe, but along with losing one's place on the reservation, it is the only legal penalty in the world that has the potential to rob a tribe member of his or her identity, says Greg Guedel, attorney for Washington-based law firm Foster Pepper.

"If you're Irish and you commit murder and you're sentenced to either life in prison or the death penalty, you're still Irish," Guedel says. "With banishment, what the tribe is saying is you are no longer Cherokee, you are no longer Navajo. You are a person without a country."

The punishment also can become a potent political strategy in a tribe's power struggle, says Katherine Florey, tribal law professor at University of California-Davis.

"I wouldn't wanna go around saying that banishment is always a wonderful thing," says Florey. "It's subject to abuse."

One example happened in 2008, when nine members of the Snoqualmie tribe in Washington state were banished for running an alleged "shadow government." The exiled members appealed the ruling, arguing they were actually cast out as a power play from opposing party members. In one of the only banishment cases ever to see a federal courtroom, a judge sided with the banished members and overturned the tribe's ruling.

In Mille Lacs, the biggest problem with banishment so far has been people like Beaulieu who come back after being cast out. Of the five people banished since 2008, all but one has since been arrested back on the reservation.

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