Mar 11, 2015 - Expansion of Indian Court Jurisdiction by Al Baker
A recent expansion of Indian Court jurisdiction is evidence that the judicial process may be moving closer to recognition of true Tribal Sovereignty. During the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on March 7, 2013 President Obama stated, “tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/03/11/making-native-communities-safer. After conducting a pilot program the Justice Department has now authorized Tribal Courts, that meet certain procedural requirements, to investigate and prosecute non-Indian defendants who commit acts of domestic violence in Indian Country.
The authority to prosecute non-Indian defendants for crimes committed on Indian Land marks a change in existing federal law following a 1973 United States Supreme Court decision that overturned the conviction of a non-Indian by a Tribal Court. http://www.kpax.com/story/28356264/tribal-governments-can-now-prosecute-non-indians-for-some-crimes.
The legislative delegation of jurisdiction to Tribal Courts under VAWA may foreshadow future legislative action that will continue to strengthen Tribal Sovereignty by expanding Tribal Court jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit other crimes on Indian Land. The VAWA authority to prosecute non-Indians is another step in the right direction of actual recognition of Tribal Sovereignty that seems to have had its beginnings in the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Act. Recent years have also seen revisions of Tribal Constitutions and implementation of Tribal Codes that allowed for creation of Tribal Courts that are now recognized as able to provide the due process required to extend jurisdiction over non-Indian violators of VAWA.