Great news! A new Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) will be signed into law by President Obama today. The law, which revises the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, will clear up some obscurities in the relationship between federal and tribal laws, in order to combat the persistent problem of violence among Native Americans. It is a significant move forward in the effort to achieve justice for victims of violence on reservations, particularly women victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
In the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report on American Indians and Crime, a comprehensive study spanning most of the 1990s, Native Americans were found to be the victims of violent crime at more than twice the national rate. The problem especially affects women: according to Amnesty International, over a third of Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetime. Enacted in response to these significant concerns, President Obama called this new law an “important step to help the federal government better address the unique public safety challenges that confront tribal communities.” The president said that in some Native American communities, the violent crime rates are more than 10 times the national average, the LA Times reports.
In the recent past, federal laws regulating Native American life have been few and far between. Tribal law differs significantly from tribe to tribe among each of the 560+ federally recognized Nations. The TLOA, first introduced in 2009, is designed to improve cooperation between federal, local, and tribal law enforcement. The law clearly authorizes collaboration between tribal and other jurisdictions. This means that if tribal law enforcement is in hot pursuit of someone who leaves their territory, they will be able to effectively coordinate with local law enforcement. Additionally, the TLOA gives tribal governments access to important national criminal databases, and creates a new federal office, the Office of Indian Country Crime, to improve communication between federal and tribal governments. The Indian Health Service, the federal department charged with ensuring Native American Health, will also be required to put consistent sexual assault protocol into operation.
Significantly, the new law also authorizes tribal governments to assign prison terms of up to three years. Under the 1968 law, tribal courts could impose criminal sentences of up to one year, but they were not bound by the 6th Amendment, which ensures the right to legal counsel. Under the new TLOA, tribal governments will have the option to assign longer prison sentences, however if they wish to participate in the three-year provision, they must provide attorneys for their defendants.
Signing the new TLOA into law will improve the efficiency of tribal governments to catch and prosecute criminals, will give tribal courts the ability to impose stricter sentences, and will establish more comprehensive rules regarding the collection of data on crime – all of which will contribute tremendously to the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault in Native American communities.
Visit www.WomensLaw.org to learn more about tribal laws, for information on tribal protection orders and to access other online resources for domestic violence on tribal land.