Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

July 21, 2011

Chemawa Indian School SRO resource officers stop by Flathead

By B.L. Azure

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Heath Nelson, Tyler Chapman and Steve Polanski, School Resource Officers at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, visit with CSKT Law Enforcement Officer Orsino Walker during a recent stop on the Flathead Indian Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)
Marion County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Heath Nelson, Tyler Chapman and Steve Polanski, School Resource Officers at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, visit with CSKT Law Enforcement Officer Orsino Walker during a recent stop on the Flathead Indian Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)

PABLO — A trio of law enforcement officers from Salem, Oregon stopped by the CSKT Law Enforcement office recently on a stop in their tour of Indian reservations in Montana recently. Marion County Deputies Heath Nelson, Tyler Chapman and Steve Polanski are School Resource Officers at the Chemawa Indian School, an Indian boarding school in Salem. They were being shown around the tribal complex by Rob McDonald, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes communication officer.

According to Polanski, the SROs at Chemawa take time each summer to visit the Indian reservations the Chemawa students come from. They go to a different area or state each year in an attempt to learn more about the environment of the students.

"It is a very good opportunity to talk to their parents, to learn more about the tribes the kids belong to and get a feel of their influences," Polanski said.

Nelson said the Marion County Sheriff's Office have a unique relationship with the federal government so that it can enforce law on federal property. "Five years ago they (Chemawa) contacted us about us providing our services to them," he said. "We had to pass a FBI background check to get a clearance to do this."

The partnership helps stretch thinning resources.

"We help by getting smaller offenses tried in local courts," Polanski said, adding that it actually took an act of Congress to allow local law enforcement authority on federal property.

Nelson said that law enforcement at Chemawa isn't what would be called traditional type. School Resource Officers don't just interact with students in times of trouble. They are involved in activities and programs that foster positive relationships between the students and law enforcement.

"We started a media production program called 3700 Productions where we partner with the kids who learn how to produce photo and video productions," Nelson said. "Next year we will be producing a TV program that will be broadcast every Friday."

Polanski, an outdoor enthusiast, trained students for outdoor adventures camping, an approach that goes beyond hot dogs over an open fire and camp songs. They are tests of a person's ability to adapt the rigors found in the outdoors.

The trio agreed that gang activity, no matter how innocuous it may appear, is a problem on Indian reservations.

"All gang members start out as wannabes," Nelson said. "Some of the students at Chemawa are active gang members on their reservations even though gangs go against all traditional values of tribes."

They said that gangs are like viruses.

"Sometimes small groups of gang members come to Indian reservations recruiting," Nelson said. "Other times a reservation kid goes to the city and comes back with a gang member to recruit others or he comes alone to recruit."

They all agreed gangs are a local community problem and it was up to the community to address the issue. One of the first things a community should do, they said was to clean up gang graffiti immediately. It is a sure sign of gang wannabes.

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