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Red Lake considers banishment, harsher penalties for drug dealers

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The Red Lake Tribal Council will gather Tuesday afternoon to debate a new punishment for drug dealers on the reservation — banishment. 

Tribal chairman Darrell Seki declared a public health emergency on the reservation at a meeting earlier this month. Nearly a dozen people overdosed on heroin in the week before the meeting. 

Seki asked local and state law enforcement to help crack down on drug pipelines from the Twin Cities. 

He also proposed a more extreme solution to the heroin and opioid epidemic: kicking repeat drug offenders off the reservation. 

"It's hard for me — the banishment idea," Seki said. "But we need to something. We need to address what's going on."

Banishment has always been within the tribal council's power — they've just never used it. Seki said he did not think they would ever have to use it. But he said current measures aren't working.

For Seki, banishment is the harshest available punishment for a tribe member. The land, and the lake itself, is at the center of his tribe's culture. Being cut off from that, he said, would be worse than jail. 

"Our tribe members keep getting busted," he said. "They get out and start selling again. Again and again. Banishment is the last option."

Leaders will discuss details of the proposal at Tuesday's meeting, but Seki said the basics are pretty simple. Only longtime drug dealers would be removed from the tribe. 

Banished members would lose their homes and have to move off the reservation for a certain period of time. They'd have to pass drug tests and get counseling before returning. 

Seki also hopes to start a Suboxone clinic to help addicted tribe members get off opioids.