Justice Long Denied Comes to Indian Country; First Post-VAWA Trial Set
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona is making history. Nearly 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978) that American Indian tribes did not have jurisdiction over non-Indians who committed crimes on reservations, the Pascua Yaqui are preparing to try as many as 10 non-Indians alleged to have committed domestic violence crimes on their reservation.
The stats for crimes against women in Indian country are appalling. A Department of Justice report states that American Indian/Alaska Native women are significantly more likely to be raped, physically assaulted and stalked than are white women. If, on an Indian reservation, that abuse was committed by a non-Indian, tribal law enforcement was not authorized to arrest the perpetrator and tribal courts did not have the jurisdiction to try him. Both arrest and prosecution were the responsibility of the federal government. But these are such challenging crimes to successfully bring to justice, federal resources are seldom deployed to deal with them.
The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization of 2013 radically changed that. Under VAWA Indian tribes will have jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence crimes on reservations. The law will go into effect for all tribes in March 2015, but the Justice Department in February designated three tribes – the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington – for a pilot program that allows them to exercise the authority immediately.
Troy Eid, chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission mandated by TLOA, says, “The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has put a lot of energy into being ready for this day. My impression is they really tried to err on the side of caution so there would be no justification for overturning a tribal court verdict on federal review.”
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