Skip to comments.Elite American Indian tracking unit targets drug smugglers, narcotics
Posted on 05/03/2007 10:46:40 PM PDT by SandRat
SELLS Shadow Wolves officer Sloan Satepauhoodle's patience is wearing thin.
She's been following tracks of four suspected drug runners for nearly two hours beneath a blazing sun and battling a hot, brisk wind that is sweeping dust over footprints, and blowing away broken twigs or burlap fibers that would provide signs. The latest tracks look too dry. They've probably already made it into the nearby village of Topawa, she says.
The lessons her training officers taught her when she began six years ago remain ingrained in her psyche: "Be patient, Sloan, be patient." But, she really wants to make a bust today.
"If I could just find something on the branches," says Satepauhoodle, who started with the Shadow Wolves in July 2001. "That would help me a lot."
Then, her radio buzzes to life with news: One of her fellow Shadow Wolves has found an abandoned truck full of marijuana on the northern edge of the Tohono O'odham Reservation. She claps her hands, smiles and turns around to begin walking back to her truck. Within a half-hour, she's driving north to help unload, weigh and process the bundles.
In this tight-knit, 14-member unit of American Indian drug trackers, the success of one is the success of all. The Shadow Wolves moniker refers to the way, like a wolf pack, when one finds its prey a load of marijuana or better yet, the drug runners themselves he or she calls in the rest.
"Even though it wasn't me, it made me feel great because it was such a big load," said Satepauhoodle, 40, a Kiowa from Oklahoma.
The load 1,246 pounds turned out to be one of the largest single seizures in what is becoming a banner year and renaissance of sorts for the Shadow Wolves, founded in 1972 by Congress.
On Oct. 1, 2006, Department of Homeland Security officials approved the transfer of the unit to Immigration and Customs Enforcement from the U.S. Border Patrol, where it had been assigned when DHS was created in 2003. Prior to 2003, the unit was part of the former U.S. Customs Service.
With the Border Patrol, officers say they were confined to assigned patrol areas and unable to get involved in investigations. Now, they have the freedom to roam the 76 miles of border and 2.8 million acres on the Tohono O'odham Nation and can stay involved in the investigations that continue after the bust.
"The Border Patrol is such a huge organization. They have a really rigid chain of command and their structure is very solid whereas the way we work is very fluid," Satepauhoodle said. "We are back to doing what I came on to do. I feel like I'm doing the work that I was trained to do."
"A great source of pride" Their use of ancient tracking methods and their understanding of the Tohono O'odham culture have earned the Shadow Wolves great respect on the Nation. Six of the 14 Shadow Wolves are Tohono O'odham, with the others representing seven other tribes from across the country. All officers must be at least 25 percent American Indian.
"They are a native people protecting a native land," said Derrick Williams, Immigration and Customs Enforcement resident agent in charge in Sells. "Their track record and their success is a huge source of pride for the TO Nation."
In addition to being highly trained in traditional tracking, they embody an important American Indian concept: being useful, said Eileen Luna-Firebaugh, associate professor of American Indian law and policy at the University of Arizona.
"They are centered with the idea of how incredibly important they are to the community," said Luna-Firebaugh, who wrote the book "Tribal Policing: Asserting Sovereignty, Seeking Justice." "That is internalized and manifested in their relationships with tribal members."
Their move back to focusing on drugs was a major improvement for the Tohono O'odham Nation and made members feel like someone was listening to their concerns, she said.
"Most O'odham believe that the illegal immigrants are not the source of the crime on the reservation," she said, "but that the source of crime on the reservation are drug smugglers."
The Shadow Wolves also distinguish themselves from Border Patrol agents by conducting their work with a respect for the culture, she said.
"They are part of the community in a way that the Border Patrol is not," Luna-Firebaugh said.
Oklahoma transplant Satepauhoodle tucks her black hair beneath a blue ICE baseball hat and then leans forward in the driver's seat of her truck as she rearranges her body, tucking her left leg beneath her right. She then sticks her head out the window.
She's getting in her "sign-cutting" position. She drives slowly along one of the infinite dirt roads on the reservation that weave between shrubs and mesquite trees that all look the same. With her head out the window, she stares at the ground looking for fresh foot- or horse prints, or tire tracks.
It's the "meat and potatoes" of the Shadow Wolves work. When they see something that "looks good," they strap on their camelback and start following it. The veterans taught her how to distinguish between cattle and horse prints, on how to read a footprint to determine if it's a man or woman and whether he or she is carrying a heavy pack.
And they drilled her on patience, something she says the job has instilled in her. She says she still takes her time and must block everything out while she "cuts for signs" but she's learned the techniques well enough that she's now training others.
Next week, she is traveling to Macedonia along with the other two female Shadow Wolves, Charmaine Harris and Carol Kirkpatrick, to train its border guards on tracking techniques.
Satepauhoodle, whose name means "Fuzzy Bear," grew up in Oklahoma as a member of the Kiowa tribe. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, she worked as an intelligence specialist for the Secret Service and later as a customs inspector at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.
Satepauhoodle was drawn to the Shadow Wolves when she read about the American Indian requirement while working as an inspector. Even though the lifestyles are totally different between her Plains tribe and the desert O'odham, she said she's been able to develop a rapport with the members of the Nation.
"We all have the same American history on how we were treated and how we are viewed in general," she said. "There is that kind of little bonding right there in that we are Indian."
A good day
Back at the ICE office in Sells, the sun is beginning to set as the crew unloads the bundles of marijuana from the dusty Suburban.
The Wolves stack them, mark them, weigh them and put them in the evidence room. The load is worth $2.7 million, according to figures from the National Drug Intelligence Center. They know it's a tiny part of the tons of drugs that pass through the reservation daily but it represents a solid day's work. Since Oct. 1, they've seized more than 43,000 pounds of marijuana. Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement are ecstatic to have them in the fold, said Alonzo Peña, special agent in charge for Arizona. Three more officers will soon be headed to the federal law-enforcement academy to join the Shadow Wolves, which would bring the unit's total to 17.
"This is a starting point for our agents to begin an investigation into an organization that is responsible for smuggling this narcotics into the country," Peña said.
The Shadow Wolves are equally pleased with their new arrangement.
"We are kind of back in harmony again because we are all under one roof," Satepauhoodle said.
* Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or email@example.com
All kinds of wolves in Oklahoma.
No, I didn’t know that!
I have seen and known native Canadaian trackers who seem to be almost "psychic."
This person really wants to do something, unlike federal workers in D.C., particularly congress, whose only bust will be their asses from sitting on them too hard!
Very cool :)
I noticed that there were no Iroquois listed. My kids have Iroquois blood on their paternal grandmother’s side of the family.
I love to go golfing with my Cherokee friend. Never lose a ball...except to those pesky ponds.
“Most O’odham believe that the illegal immigrants are not the source of the crime on the reservation,” she said, “but that the source of crime on the reservation are drug smugglers.”
PC bullsh*t. The illegals destroy stock tanks to steal water, litter, and break into homes to steal supplies. The smugglers just pass through hoping to be unnoticed.
“We all have the same American history on how we were treated and how we are viewed in general,” she said. “There is that kind of little bonding right there in that we are Indian.”
How they are viewed in general? Again a load of crap. It’s not 1860 anymore. I live in Arizona and can tell you the worst discrimination is by tribal leaders against their members! Or against Indians of mixed heritage by other Indians who think they aren’t Indian enough - not by whites or other races!
Busting MARIJUANA? What a great use of their time given the massive crime that exists on reservations - and how it’s been despoiled by millions of illegal mexicans depositing trash in the desert.