Narconon Tries Defense On Indian Sovereignty

By Michael McNutt, Enid Bureau

The Daily Oklahoman,
March 5, 1992

Lawyers for an unlicensed drug and alcohol treatment center argued Thursday that it is exempt from state regulations under the cloak of Indian sovereignty.

Narconon Chilocco New Life Center is on the campus of the old Chilocco Indian school north of Newkirk and as a result is exempt from state efforts to shut it down, lawyer Harry Woods Jr., said.

But state lawyers, in a hearing in which the Oklahoma State Department of Health is seeking a court injunction to shut down Narconon Chilocco, said the facility's location is not enough to claim Indian sovereignty.

Narconon Chilocco is a non-Indian entity that treats non-Indians, Robert Cole, a lawyer for the health department said.

Henry Hartsell, Jr., a public health administrator with the health department, said to claim sovereignty a facility must be owned by Indians, on Indian land, and treat only Indians.

Hartsell noted that the state recognizes sovereignty for a Cherokee Indian treatment center and a Choctaw Indian drug and alcohol treatment center because each meets those three requirements.

District Judge Neal Beekman presided over the five-hour hearing and took the matter under advisement.

He asked lawyers on both sides to prepare written arguments within three weeks. He said he could make a ruling by the end of next month.

Woods said the state should back away from regulating the center.

He showed a letter sent earlier this week from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to Narconon Chilocco to show that the federal government is taking on jurisdiction.

But the letter, from L.W. Collier, Jr., area director of the BIA office in Anadarko, tells Narconon Chilocco it has a month to get its program certified by the state or it will be violating its leas with the Chilocco Development Authority, an Indian board that manages the Chilocco campus. Collier's letter says Narconon Chilocco agreed to comply with Oklahoma laws in the lease, which includes getting its program certified by the Oklahoma Board of Mental health and Substance Abuse Services.

Collier also told Narconon Chilocco to make arrangements to move its patients to licensed facilities.

Marcellus Chouteau, a former Kaw tribal chairman and former chairman of the Chilocco Development Authority, testified that the BIA made a mistake in giving the state of Oklahoma any authority in the Narconon Chilocco lease. "That land is Indian land," he said. "The state has no part in it. We had governments even before this state became a state. Now the state of Oklahoma is trying to cram it down our throats."

Narconon Chilocco started accepting patients in February 1990. State officials sought an injunction to close it, and an application for certification filed with the state mental health board has been rejected.