Why the F’in F Are They Building A Dollar General In Mckinleyville or In Which We Discuss the corrupt and frankly dangerous practices of the Dollar General company
The sign went up this week “Coming Soon- Dollar General!” Well, wait – the fence went up first. They put a big fence around this empty lot almost as if to say “we must protect the Dollar General.”
It’s not a very tall fence.
I guess I need to start with – I am against Dollar General being built in Mckinleyville (the town where I live) right across the street from the local high school (where a number of Native students go to school) and on a corner that is very near a number of neighborhoods and other schools.
Not just because it’s not a very bright vision of the future we might want for our community. It’s not open green space, a public garden, a skate park, an artist installation and gathering place – it’s a freaking Dollar General. But also because Dollar General is a company that spent the better part of the past few years single handedly trying to challenge Native tribal sovereignty and prevent us from being able to civilly prosecute non-Native offenders for sexually assaulting our children.
That’s right, they spent the better part of the past few years spending all kinds of money to protect a child abuser. They decided it was much more important to take away Native tribes ability to protect their children (through civil court) than to pay restitution to a Native child who experienced multiple instances of sexual assault from a Dollar General Manager.
Fuck Dollar General.
To explain this I’ll need to go all the way back in the 1800s. That’s right – it’s time for a quick down and dirty Federal Indian law lesson. It will bring us all the way back to the present and me standing on the corner of the street I grew up on wondering HOW our County Supervisors allowed for a corporation like this to get it’s grubby little hands on land that is across the street from our high school kids. And why they didn’t even THINK that what Dollar General had done was egregious enough to make sure they were not allowed in our community. Native people (Native women, Native kids) are treated as sacrificial, we are not enough of a concern to warrant a quick google search and a “oh, maybe we don’t want corporations here that protect child abusers and treat Native tribes like they are savage.”
*Note. This is not a comprehensive look at Federal Indian Law that goes through all of the convoluted steps that have been taken to chip away at Native tribal sovereignty and our ability to protect our Native peoples from violence and assault. Also I’m not a lawyer. I’ve never claimed to be a lawyer. I once thought about being a lawyer and then I worked as an assistant for a bunch of lawyers who all took me out to lunch one day and said “NEVER NEVER BE A LAWYER. EVER.” Lawyers are hilarious.*
Dollar General Corp. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (2016)
It was 2003
…a 13-year-old Choctaw boy went to work at a Dollar General store on the reservation as a part of his tribe’s Youth Opportunity Program, where an employer gets free labor in exchange for giving Choctaw youths work experience.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has to handle criminal cases for Tribes (especially, in this case, because it was a non-Native offender) declined to prosecute the case (this tends to happen a lot. Most of the time they decline to prosecute. “It’s expensive.” “It’s just one case…” etc. etc.)
Native tribes cannot prosecute non-Native offenders who commit violent crimes (like sexual assault) against Native people on Native lands. Just let that sit for a moment.
We cannot prosecute people who come to our lands and assault our people. The case was left with a “too bad, so sad.”
So the boy’s family tried to seek justice through tribal court asking for a civil judgement against the manager and Dollar General. Dollar General refused and they sued saying they didn’t wanna go before the tribal court because the tribal court will be mean to them because tribal peoples will just be mean to non-native peoples wah! (I paraphrase)
Here are some things to keep in mind:
But How Did We Get Here?
Wait a minute. A non-Native person can commit a crime against a Native person on Native land and not answer for it? They can get away with it? How is that? What? Is? That?
And it happens a lot (both the committing of violence and the getting away with it).
See all the way back in 1883 a man by the name of Crow Dog came before the Supreme Court in a case called Ex Parte Crow Dog. Crow Dog killed another Native man named Spotted Tail. The tribal council decided that Crow Dog, in line with his tribal traditions, would pay restitution to Spotted Tail’s family. However, the U.S. said that was wrong and that the tribe SHOULD have hung Crow Dog. (Interesting that what they really wanted was two dead Indians and not just one). Crow Dog was found guilty in U.S. court and was sentenced to hang. He decided to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court at the time said “nope. You can’t hang him. Tribes are the ones who have jurisdiction over these crimes on their land. They are frigging sovereign nations.”
At the same time though the court was like “But, if Congress wanted to pass a law that said Indians no longer could be in charge of this kind of stuff Congress could do that because Congress has plenary power over Native tribes so…”
Guess what happened two years later? The Major Crimes Act (1885).
This is where Congress was like “Indian tribes are so savage and they don’t know that you’re supposed to hang people for everything. So we are going to pass a law that says Native American Tribes CANNOT prosecute crimes that are major.” Indian tribes could no longer prosecute any cases that involved: murder, manslaughter, rape, assault with intent to kill, arson, burglary and larceny. Later they updated this list to include: kidnapping, maiming, sexual abuse, incest, assault against a minor, felony child abuse or neglect and robbery.
Who is supposed to try these “major crimes” when they are committed against Native people on Native land? The U.S. Attorney’s Office (someone is gonna want me to get into Public Law 280 and how messed up that is but I don’t have time for that so just know that there are some states where it is not the U.S. Attorney but rather local governments that are supposed to prosecute major crimes).
Often the U.S. Attorney’s office will decline to prosecute major crimes that are committed against Native people. There are many documented statistics about the fact that cases are often declined, never investigated or “lost” to the system that asks outside agencies to come in and prosecute Individual cases on rural reservations.
Finding numbers about the total amount of cases that are “declined” by federal prosecutors is difficult. NPRs ongoing work about how this specifically affects the prosecution of rape cases against Native women demonstrates that this is an ongoing problem:
If cases are declined, Richter said, it's because many rapes are inherently difficult to try, and federal courts place a high burden on prosecutors for evidence.
So Native tribes cannot prosecute. U.S. agencies decline to prosecute. And the offender can go about their business after having assaulted and violated a Native person. It’s a legal loophole that has existed since 1885. And people know it’s a problem. They KNOW there are statistics to support it. Yet, we still get cases like Dollar General where they come in and want to take away our rights to find justice through civil cases.
Why do they hate Tribal Courts so much
In 1978 the Supreme Court issued a decision in a case called Oliphant v Suquamish. This dude Mark David Oliphant was a non-Indian living on Suquamish Tribal land. And then he assaulted a police officer and resisted arrest. The county and the BIA didn’t send anyone to arrest him so he was arrested by tribal officers. Oliphant took it all the way to the Supreme Court saying that he couldn’t be arrested by Indians because he didn’t WANNA BE! And the Supreme Court went “yep, you’re right. Tribes can’t arrest or prosecute non-Native offenders when they commit crimes on their land.”
This means if you are a non-native who commits a crime on Indian land a tribal police officer can’t arrest you and a tribal court can’t prosecute you so basically, cool, just go ahead and be a dick cause ain’t nobody gonna do nothing about it.
The idea from the Supreme Court was that Indian tribes are not real sovereigns (domestic-dependent) and also even if they are you shouldn’t have to be subjected to another sovereigns “customs and procedures.” And then- get this, the Supreme Court is like (not a direct quote but you’ll get the gist) “you know, like Crow Dog. We said that if you’re an Indian you shouldn’t have to be subjected to another sovereign’s customs and procedures so it’s the same for non-Indians too!”
EXCEPT THEY ALREADY DID. MAJOR CRIMES ACT ANYBODY?
Also – tell that to France. You can go visit and go up the Eifel Tower and then pee down the front of it and when they come to arrest you be like “Look, I’m from the U.S. And we should haven’t to be subjected to your customs and procedures!” See how that works.
At the end of the Oliphant decision the court “invited” Congress to fix this problem acknowledging that there was a very high crime rate against Native people and that this would likely create a further issue. But Congress was like “meh… it happens.”
They must have done something by now right?
Montana v. United States (1981) said that tribes can exercise civil jurisdiction over nonmembers if:
(1) the nonmembers have entered "consensual relationships with the tribe or its members, through commercial dealing, contracts, leases, or other arrangements" or (2) the nonmember's "conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe."
This means that tribes can at the very least oversee matters of restitution through civil court. If there is no other justice we can hope for, there is AT LEAST that.
In 2010 the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act included provisions to extend the ability of Native tribes to arrest and prosecute non-Native offenders. In 2010 Obama also passed the Tribal Law and Order Act which expands the abilities of tribal courts to prosecute violent offenders but limits sentencing: not greater than 3 years, fines are limited to $15,000, and jurisdiction is limited in scope.
There are new cases of tribes who have been able to establish the capacity to prosecute violent crimes (under this limited scope) but this has just begun. Some legal experts are saying that it is likely these cases will end up in the Supreme Court again – to test the strength of the Tribal Law and Order Act.
So What about Dollar General?
What I’m always telling people when I go do talks about these ongoing issues of legal loopholes to commit violence against our people is that these cases matter not just because of the precedent they set, not just because of the statistics but also because we are people. And any person who is assaulted and violated should have justice. Because they matter. This Choctaw boy, every child, every person faced with the long lasting trauma of these crimes – they need to know that we value them – that we will fight for them and that we will not allow a company like Dollar General to have the last say in what justice looks like.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and Planning Department that approved Dollar General being built in our community, a community with 12 local area tribes, a community that has a significant number of tribal peoples living in it, a community that supposedly values our tribal peoples knowledge and voices – should be ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed that they supported and approved of a company who made it their goal to attack Native sovereignty and to devalue a 13-year old boy who had to spend YEARS after his assaults testifying and worrying about the outcome of this case.
We are people. Our children are at risk. Our people experience some of the highest rates of violence. Our communities are part of your community – Humboldt County. And you are willing to ignore that this corporation, one that would rather protect their business and money interests than actually work as part of a community to protect children, is coming in to our community.
It is telling that once again our children are the ones who are sacrificed in the name of cheap and easy shopping for cheap and easy food (or sponges or toys etc).
The outcome of the Dollar General case is that they lost. They frigging lost. But they only lost because Scalia died. The decision came back 4-4 and Scalia’s history had always been to vote against Native tribal sovereignty. Because the decision was tied the lower court ruling was upheld and that ruling said that tribes should be able to civilly prosecute non-Native offenders (when they agree to be prosecuted by the tribe in their lease and contracts).
Dollar General spent all that money and all that time to denigrate Native tribal sovereignty, to imply that we would be unfair, to imply that we were primitive, savage and that “all Native juries” or a “Native judge” would somehow be unable to serve. Yet, as pointed out by Justice Sotamayor, they wouldn’t say the same thing about an all-white jury or a white judge. Dollar General spent all that time and money to keep a Native boy from seeking justice.
That’s who Dollar General is.
That’s what they bring into communities.
That’s what is being ignored when they are allowed to put up their “coming soon” sign.
Fuck Dollar General.
I care and I don't want Dollar General!
What do we do now? We are working on it. Hoping that people will step up and start to make a big stink about this. Some people say to me "But they're already building, they are already breaking ground so... too late."
Nah - it's not.
So let's make it obvious that we are actually a community and we want our community to be better than frigging Dollar General.
First - SHARE THIS BLOG! Let everyone know about Dollar General and their practices.
1. You can message District 5 County Supervisor Ryan Sundberg.
Contact info: Ryan Sundberg (5th District)
825 5th Street, Room 111
Eureka, CA 95501
Direct line: (707) 476-2395
2. You can message soon to be District 5 Supervisor Steve Madrone and tell him that he needs to be out there stopping Dollar General. Try the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/madrone4supervisor/
3. You can write a letter to the North Coast Journal or the Times Standard,
4. You can show up outside of where they are building the Dollar General with a sign that says "NO DOLLAR GENERAL."
5. You can go to the next County Supervisors Meeting. September 25, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. humboldtgov.org/Calendar.aspx?EID=3750
6. If you are a member of a tribe (especially local tribes) you can encourage your Tribal Chairs and Tribal Council to write letters to the supervisors, come to the supervisors meeting and generally make a big old stink about all of this.
7. You can comment on this post and I will post them and put them on posters and send them to the Supervisors myself.
I am so fortunate to be surrounding by some powerful Native people. We have been talking about this. We will be looking at what we need to do next. I thank them for reaching out to me and inspiring me to begin here. #NoDollarGeneralMckinleyville
Will add more soon.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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