This week marked the third anniversary of the Tribal Law & Order Act (TLOA), which was signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2010. When this historic legislation was passed, the Justice Department had already launched a nationwide initiative to reduce crime in Indian Country, with particular focus on the alarming rates of domestic and sexual violence against women.
This year was also a landmark one with the historic reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which President Obama signed into law on March 7, 2013. The reauthorization of VAWA contained provisions proposed by the Justice Department that significantly improve the safety of native women and allow federal and tribal law enforcement agencies to hold more perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes.
Increasing Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions
The Justice Department continues to work to ensure safer communities through an increase in federal investigations and prosecutions in Indian Country. On May 30, 2013, the Department released a report to Congress required under TLOA entitled Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions 2011-2012. The report, based on data compiled from the FBI and the case management system used by U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAO) with Indian Country jurisdiction shows, among other things, a 54 percent increase in Indian Country criminal prosecutions since Fiscal Year 2009. Read the entire report at: www.justice.gov/tribal/tloa-report-cy-2011-2012.pdf
Attorney General Holder commented on the release of the report: “Across the country, U.S. Attorneys have been focused on fighting crime in Indian Country and reinforcing the bond between federal and tribal law enforcement, which also strengthens the faith that people have in their criminal justice system. This report on federal law enforcement efforts in Indian Country is beginning to show the fruits of this labor with an increase in Indian Country cases prosecuted in federal courts over the past three years, but we have more work to do. The department will continue in its commitment to working with our tribal partners to build safe, sustainable and healthy communities in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”
More Resources to Combat Sexual Assault in Indian Country
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), in partnership with the FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) and the Indian Health Service, is leading an effort to enhance the response to tribal victims of sexual violence in accordance with the TLOA. The AI/AN Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Sexual Assault Response Team (SANE-SART) Initiative addresses the comprehensive needs of tribal victims of sexual violence. From the outset of the project in 2010, OVC and its federal and tribal partners have focused on the challenge of building the capacity of tribal communities to provide coordinated, community-based, victim-centered responses to sexual violence. The five-year project encompasses three demonstration sites, coordinators at the Indian Health Service and the FBI, training and technical assistance and support from the Attorney General’s federal advisory committee and multidisciplinary working groups-all committed to institutionalizing sustainable, culturally relevant, evidence-based practices to meet the needs of tribal victims of sexual assault. More information about the initiative and its multiple components is available at: www.ovc.gov/AIANSane-Sart/.
Addressing Alcohol and Substance Abuse
The Departments of Justice, the Interior and Health and Human Services entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that the agencies would collectively, among other things: determine the scope of the alcohol and substance abuse problems faced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, identify the resources each agency can bring to bear on the problem, and set minimum standards for applying those resources. This multi-agency collaboration has produced quarterly “Prevention and Recovery” newsletters with information about grant programs, tribal programs and policy initiatives designed to address alcohol and substance abuse in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. The newsletters and more information about this evolving collaboration are available at: www.samhsa.gov/tloa/.
Concurrent Federal Criminal Jurisdiction
The Department published its final rule in December 2011 to implement Section 221 of the TLOA, which authorizes the Attorney General to assume concurrent – or simultaneous – jurisdiction over certain crimes committed on tribal lands. Through this rule, an Indian tribe that is subject to state law enforcement jurisdiction under Public Law 280 may request that the federal government accept concurrent jurisdiction within the tribe’s Indian Country and, if the Attorney General consents, federal authorities can investigate and prosecute criminal offenses.
On March 15, 2013, the Department of Justice granted a request by the White Earth Nation for the United States to assume concurrent criminal jurisdiction on the 1,300 square mile White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. The decision was the first action of its kind under the landmark TLOA. Several tribes have submitted requests for assumption by the Attorney General of concurrent federal criminal jurisdiction, which the Department currently is reviewing.
These are just a few areas where the Justice Department is continuing its efforts to ensure healthy, safe and sustainable communities in Indian country. Although a great deal of work remains to accomplish that goal, we can reflect today on many of the milestones that have been achieved since TLOA’s passage, and reaffirm our commitment to safe and healthy American Indian and Alaska Native communities, today and for generations to come.