As a result of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013), three American Indian tribes will now have the authority to prosecute non-Native Americans for certain domestic and dating violence crimes.
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, and the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon are the first in the country to exercise special criminal jurisdiction for certain crimes against women, regardless of tribal membership.
“This is just the latest step forward in this administration’s historic efforts to address the public safety crisis in Indian country,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Every day, we’re working hard to strengthen partnerships with tribal leaders and confront shared challenges – particularly when it comes to protecting Indian women and girls from the shocking and unacceptably high rates of violence they too often face. With the important new tools provided by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, these critical pilot projects will facilitate the first tribal prosecutions of non-Indian perpetrators in recent times. This represents a significant victory for public safety and the rule of law, and a momentous step forward for tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”
While the act’s provisions won’t fully take effect until March 2015, the law authorizes the Attorney General to grant special prosecution privileges earlier, through a voluntary pilot program.
“The old jurisdictional scheme failed to adequately protect the public – particularly native women – with too many crimes going unprosecuted and unpunished amidst escalating violence in Indian Country,” stated Associate Attorney General Tony West. “Our actions today mark a historic turning point. We believe that by certifying certain tribes to exercise jurisdiction over these crimes, we will help decrease domestic and dating violence in Indian Country, strengthen tribal capacity to administer justice and control crime, and ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their criminal behavior.”