Justice on the reservation

The reauthorized Violence Against Women Act will give tribal courts more authority.

by Daily Editorial Board



On Thursday, after weeks of discussion and impassioned debate, the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the Senate’s version of the Violence Against Women Act.

Among other additions were new protections for American Indians, which will hopefully go toward reducing the appalling number of American Indian women raped every year. According to the Justice Department, one in three American Indian women has been raped or has had someone attempt to rape them. Furthermore, an arrest is made in only 13 percent of all sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for whites.

One of the reasons attributed to the high rate of assault against American Indian women and low number of arrests is a gap in the law that has prevented non-Indians from being arrested by tribal police. The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap has attracted sexual predators to tribal areas.

The bill passed by the House last week will grant tribal courts limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of committing sexual assault.  While some House Republicans originally tried to pass their own version that did not include provisions concerning American Indians, the measure ultimately failed. The more comprehensive Senate version was then passed and is expected to be signed into law by the president.

Minnesota is home to several American Indian communities, each with its own set of issues and challenges. While each community is largely autonomous, the VAWA is an important step that will improve the ability of reservations to bring perpetrators of sexual assault to justice.