Friday, February 21, 2014

Some tribes get jurisdiction over non-Indian defendants under VAWA

NPR's Codeswitch features this story today by Hansi Lo Wang about three tribes who will soon get jurisdiction to prosecute those who commit certain crimes against American Indian women.

Under the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, tribal governments do to have jurisdiction over crimes that non-American Indians commit on tribal lands.  Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction over these cases, but U.S. Attorneys have been lax about pursuing many such cases.  Read more here and here.  The federal government has been particularly lax about prosecuting domestic violence.

That is where the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) comes in.  A provision of the reauthorized law permits tribes "to try some non-Indian defendants in domestic abuse cases."  Initially, only three tribes will exercise this authority, but in March 2015, the program will expand to other eligible federally-recognized tribes around the country.

The story features Deborah Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes north of Seattle, who advocated for this opportunity for tribes.
For three years, she flew back and forth between Washington state and Washington, D.C., giving speeches and knocking on doors — an experience that she says felt like "going to war." 
"You got to go to battle," Parker says, "and you have to convince a lot of people that native women are worth protecting."
Now, the Tulalip will be one of the first three tribes to exercise this authority.  The others are the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

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