In summer 2008, facing an unprecedented rise in violent crime, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe resurrected the ancient practice of banishment. The Central Minnesota tribe has since exiled a handful of its members, and planned to do the same with a list of other repeat offenders on the reservation.
But a recent decision from the tribe's court of appeals suggests the practice is actually unconstitutional.
In the case of Darrick Dewayne Williams, a suspected member of the Native Mob, a judge suspended the tribe's banishment order, calling the ordinance "vague" and a violation of the Indian Civil Rights Act.[jump]
But for Williams, the victory is bittersweet. The 20-year-old was one of 24 suspected Native Mob members named in a lengthy indictment unsealed earlier this month. The U.S. Attorneys Office has charged Williams with a long list of serious crimes, including illegal possession of a firearm, attempted murder in aid of racketeering, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, and multiple counts of conspiracy.
So while he's still allowed on the reservation, he could potentially face decades in federal prison.
We first reported on Williams and the controversial punishment in our November cover story, "The Banishing." According tribal court documents, Williams had already racked up an extensive criminal history by the time tribal police petitioned to banish him in fall of 2010.
In September 2009, Williams was arrested by tribal police for theft and giving an officer a fake name. The next spring, he was spotted spray-painting Native Mob tags on another tribe member's house and vehicle. He hit another fellow tribe member with a bottle that summer, and then fired a handgun at him, sending the victim to the hospital with a head injury.
The final straw came on August 25, 2010. A group of people had gathered at a house on the reservation, and two women -- Eleanor Flyinghorse and Samantha Quaderer -- began arguing on the porch, according to Mille Lacs County court documents. Williams, who was Quaderer's boyfriend, stepped in and punched Flyinghorse in the face.
"She flew into the wall and flipped out, she just laid there," one witness told police.
Williams hit Flyinghorse so hard, he knocked a molar clean out of her gums, causing the side of her face to swell up to the size of a grapefruit. She was brought to the hospital, where an employee called the police. Williams was arrested and charged with third- and fifth-degree assault.
The tribe filed the petition to banish Williams two weeks later (though the assault charges were eventually dropped).
Christopher Sailors, a defense attorney who works for the tribe, told the court that Williams lives on the reservation with his young child, and expressed a desire to "learn and practice the spiritual ways of the Anishinabe," according to tribal court documents. Sailors also argued that the exclusion ordinance is too vague.
In his ruling, Magistrate B.J. Jones agreed that the ordinance is "extremely broad." It gives a judge too much discretion over what qualifies as a banishment-worthy offense, writes Jones, and doesn't distinguish between tribe and non-tribe members, making it a violation of due process as defined in the Indian Civil Rights Act. Jones suspended the exclusion order until the law is revised.
A spokesman for the tribe wouldn't comment on the judge's opinion. The ruling doesn't address the tribe's other banishment orders, leaving it unclear as to what this decision means for previously exiled band members.