The Search for Crime and Justice on America’s Indian Reservations

    Maggie Ybarra

    Politics, North America

    Dancers take part in the Grand Entry on the opening night of the 32nd Annual Taos Pueblo Pow Wow, a Native American dance competition and social gathering, in Taos, New Mexico

    “The federal approach” is usually a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it deal, which may not seem very appealing to some tribes.

    New Mexico is quietly wild. Its multicolored sunsets, volcano-pocked terrain and unique cultural landscape attract tourists, inspire artists and mask its dark side. After all, one of the perks of the sparsely populated state is that it’s wide-open spaces offer a makeshift sanctuary to those who seek isolation and freedom, but with that magnitude of freedom comes the danger of believing that the day-to-day social and legal restrictions that govern society no longer apply. Anything seems possible under the desert sun, and many people have gone out of their way to test that theory.

    Crime in the desert is like a flower on a cactus. It flourishes in unexpected places. It is not easily beaten back by brutal or unexpected elements. It does not shy away from the brink of extinction or the occasional danger.

    It is difficult to kill.

    This has sometimes been a harsh reality for the sprawling territories that are governed by the state’s twenty-three Indian tribes.

    New Mexico is no stranger to unusual crimes, so it is unlikely that authorities were shocked when they caught Loren Lloyd Wauneka and Lisa Benally stealing jewelry, furniture and firearms from a law-enforcement officer’s residence on the Navajo Nation reservation in January 2016. Both had criminal histories. Wauneka was convicted of the crime and sentenced to thirty-seven months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, according to an August 10 Department of Justice press statement. Benally is still awaiting her day in court. She faces ten years in federal prison.

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    The National Interest

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