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  • The Impact of Drug Trafficking on American Indian Reservations with International Boundaries
  • Asa Revels (bio) and Janet Cummings (bio)

American Indians in the United States who reside within close proximity to the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders are directly and indirectly affected by activity associated with drug trafficking. Evidence suggests that rates of border violations related to drug trafficking are increasing in these areas and that rates of associated violence and injury may also be on the rise. This article has four main objectives. The first is to document the crisis of violence and injury occurring on American Indian reservations as a result of drug and human trafficking across international borders. The second objective is to highlight challenges that obscure attempts to address this problem. Third, a review of current initiatives to resolve these challenges is provided. Finally, this article discusses potential solutions to these challenges via political reform, resource allocation, and other tactics addressing increased drug-trafficking activity.

To achieve these objectives, two federally recognized American Indian tribes were selected to conduct an in-depth examination of the problem: the Saint Regis Mohawk and Tohono O’odham Nations. These tribes were chosen due to their close proximity to the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, as well as their strong cultural affinity with relatives living immediately adjacent to the border. The Saint Regis Mohawk Nation shares approximately twenty miles of land with the Canadian border, while the Tohono O’odham Nation shares approximately seventy-five miles with the Mexican border. Both areas are recognized as drug conduits, a result of multiple factors; consequently, these areas are increasingly impacted by violence and injury. [End Page 287]


Literature Review

Beginning in May 2011, a literature review was initiated using online sources, including Google, Google Scholar, Pubmed, Web of Knowledge, Bureau of Indian Affairs (bia),, the official websites of the Tohono O’odham and Saint Regis Mohawk Nations, the US Department of Justice, the Native American Rights Fund, the National Congress of American Indians, High Country News, the New York Times, the Arizona Daily Star, the Watertown Daily Times,,, and Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country. Key search terms used to identify multiple types of literature included Tohono O’odham Nation, Saint Regis Mohawk Nation, drug trafficking on Indian reservations, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, Public Law 93-638, congressional bills related to drug trafficking, Arizona drug trafficking, New York drug trafficking, Public Law 280, violence and drugs, and violence on Indian reservations.

Contact via phone and email was also made with a Mr. David Selden, the library director from the National Indian Law Library, who sent via email multiple articles, scanned book pages, and court cases related to this topic. The news articles, government reports, court cases, and other editorials that were identified through this process were read thoroughly for relevancy. Those sources containing pertinent information were included in this article.

Descriptive Statistics

Data related to violent and property crimes, violent deaths, injuries, socioeconomic status, and demographic information were collected about the two relevant tribes and the states and counties within which they reside from the Center for Disease Control’s “Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (wisqars),” the US Census Bureau, the US Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Uniform Crime Report (ucr).”


A brief questionnaire was developed for the police department of each reservation to obtain information about the policing practices of each [End Page 288] tribe. This survey was deemed exempt from irb review by the Emory irb because it did not qualify as human subjects research. The questionnaire focused on obtaining public information related to financial and physical resources used by the tribal police departments; the impact of drug and human trafficking on the reservation; the cultural relationships tribes maintain with the bordering country; and data collection initiatives carried out by each of the departments. The questionnaire was administered to the highest-ranking individual in the department willing to participate and qualified to answer the questions, which included Lieutenant Charles Hangartner from the Tohono O’odham Tribal Police Department and Police Chief Andrew Thomas from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Police.




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pp. 287-318
Launched on MUSE
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