Editorial: Tribal land loophole in domestic violence law needs fixing
BY World's Editorials Writers
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
2/19/13 at 8:09 AM
There are many reasons for Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act. For starters, over the past 18 years it's saved lives and provided grants to train those helping victims of domestic abuse.
Here's another reason: It would close a dangerous legal loophole.
If an American Indian is charged with committing an act of domestic abuse, that individual can be handled in a tribal court. If a non-tribal member is accused of the same crime on Indian land, he or she cannot be prosecuted by a tribal court, which does not have jurisdiction over non-tribal members. (Non-tribal) state courts by the same token often won't take the case because the alleged crime occurred on tribal land. So the case has to be sent to federal authorities, who might not have the time or the inclination to pursue it.
The VAWA renewal has been hung up in the House, the debate largely focused on a 10-page section of the bill that would give tribal courts unprecedented jurisdiction over non-tribal members.
Indian women are three times more likely to suffer domestic violence than the general population. "It's a horrific problem," says Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is a member of the Chickasaw tribe. "It's of epidemic proportions."
As an advocate for tribal sovereignty, Cole is trying to persuade his fellow Republicans to support VAWA.
Along with U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California, Cole has offered a compromise that would give tribal courts original jurisdiction but let non-tribal defendants opt into the federal court system. Some members of Congress are concerned that it will set a precedent for letting tribal courts handle other cases against non-Indians.
Todd Hembree, the attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, said the tribal courts are up to the challenge.
Tribal lands are sovereign space. If non-Indians commit crimes, including domestic abuse, in tribal territory, they should be prepared to face the consequences in tribal court.
Original Print Headline: End violence