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Shadow Wolves tracking unit targets drug smugglers 5-13-07

By BRADY McCOMBS
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The lessons Shadow Wolves training officers
taught Sloan Satepauhoodle 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 near Sells, Ariz. 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 - 2,741 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. Before 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.”

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 theirsuccess 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.

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.

With her head out the window, she stares at the ground looking for
fresh foot- or horse prints, or tire tracks.

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.

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.”

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 Pena, 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.

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.
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