Language in a bill currently going through the Senate states, “Congress finds that American Indian children and Alaska Native children experience PTSD at a rate of 22 percent, which is the same rate at which Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans experience PTSD.” Several bills have been introduced during this Congress to help combat that staggering rate and, at the same time, increase tribal jurisdiction in several other areas.
The Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (S.2233) was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, along with Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in December. The bill would amend Section 204 of Public Law 90-284 (Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968), which now secures tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence cases, to read “Tribal jurisdiction over crimes of domestic violence, child violence, and violence against law enforcement officers”. Language in the bill states the justification for adding law enforcement officers, “…the Uniform Crime Report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that police officers, including tribal police officers, are assaulted when responding to disturbance calls more often than under any other circumstances.”
The Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act (S.1986) was introduced by former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) who resigned in December 2017 amid allegations of sexual harassment. Sens. Udall and Murkowski co-sponsored former Sen. Franken’s legislation. The bill would provide tribal jurisdiction over “crimes of domestic, dating, or sexual violence, sex trafficking, or stalking”.
Both bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“The Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act would address the gaps in coverage created by the Violence Against Women Act, by including crimes against law enforcement and children in the covered conduct,” said Justin Eason, EBCI tribal prosecutor. “Too often, crimes against women on the reservation include children as either victims or witnesses, or the offender will end up resisting arrest or committing other assaultive behaviors against law enforcement which would fall outside of the narrow range of Special Criminal Domestic Violence Jurisdiction. This law would allow for the Tribe to prosecute such offenses instead of relying on the Federal Government.”
He added, “Similarly, the Justice for Native American Survivors of Sexual Violence Act would provide the same authority to arrest and prosecute offenders for crimes of sexual violence or human trafficking. This means that cases of sexual assaults which were not perpetrated by intimate partners and other similar crimes would now be within the jurisdiction of the Tribe to punish.”
Speaking of the importance of the legislation, Eason noted, “Both of these bills would represent a substantial recognition of a Tribe’s inherent right to protect its people from predation. As we are already a SDVCJ (Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction) under VAWA 2013 tribe, changing our code to reflect this increased jurisdiction would be relatively straightforward.”
Tribal provisions in the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was signed into law on March 7, 2013 by then-President Obama, gave federally recognized tribes jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases. According to the Department of Justice, most of the changes to the law took effect in Fiscal Year 2014. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians got its first conviction in a case under those new provisions on July 21, 2015.
Marsha Jackson, EBCI Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Program manager, said, “We hope that the U.S. Congress will pass this law so that the EBCI can better protect its tribal members from sexual assault. Tribal officers should have the ability to charge non-Indians when they commit crimes of sexual assault within EBCI territory. The passage of this law would be a vital piece in protecting victims and would be a natural companion to the rights already granted by VAWA.”
She added, “The EBCI Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Program served 161 victims in 2016 and 113 victims in 2017. While only a small percentage of these clients reach out for services for sexual assault, many have endured sexual assault at sometime within their life. Many studies have proven, getting an individual to report sexual assault is often difficult. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, ‘Only 16 percent of rapes are ever reported to the police. In a survey of victims who do not report rape or attempted rape to the police, the following was found as to why no report was made: 43 percent thought nothing could be done, 27 percent felt it was a private matter, 12 percent were afraid of the police response and 12 percent felt it was not important enough.’ Passage of this law to allow non-Indian criminals to be convicted on tribal land for sexual assault could be a window of opportunity for many more native victims to come forward.”
Along with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, many other federally recognized tribes and national organizations have given their official support to the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act including: National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Congress of American Indians, National American Indian Court Judges Association, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Native American Rights Fund, United South & Eastern Tribes, All Pueblo Council of Governors, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Acoma, the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the Pueblo of Santa Clara, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Sac and Fox Nation, Squaxin Island Tribe, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
“There are far too many desperate stories illustrating how Native American women, children, and law enforcement are caught up in acts of domestic violence while the perpetrator goes unpunished,” Sen. Udall said in a press release the day the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act was introduced. “The failure to shield these individuals from violence should outrage us all. With this bill, we can close a dark and desperate loophole in tribal criminal jurisdiction.”
Sen. Masto noted in the press release, “I have spent my career fighting to ensure that tribal leaders are empowered to keep their communities safe from domestic violence. I am proud to introduce the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, a bill that will further that mission by restoring important protections to children and tribal law enforcement officers involved in domestic violence incidents on tribal lands.”
This article originally appeared on Cherokee One Feather.