New law empowers tribal justice systems

 

In late July, President Obama, an adopted member of the Crow Tribe of southern Montana, signed the Tribal Law and Order Act.  The measure, introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) in 2008, aims to smooth out the "jurisdictional maze" of law enforcement on reservations in order to empower tribal communities to better confront crime.

Many tribal communities suffer from rates of crime significantly higher – in some cases 20 times higher – than the nation's average.  Statistically one in three Native American and Native Alaskan women will be raped in her lifetime, and the majority of perpetrators are non-native men exempt from trial by tribal courts. In a video of the Tribal Law and Order Act signing ceremony that took place at the White House on Thursday, July 29, Lisa Marie Iyotte, an enrolled member of the White Clay People, described how federal authorities failed to prosecute the man who beat and raped her until he had attacked two other women. Only some state courts investigate crimes that happen on tribal lands, and federal courts decline to take on any but the most serious cases, meaning that many violations go without prosecution all together. Meanwhile Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement offices are severely underfunded nationwide.

 


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