The Violence Against Women Act was a hot-button issue last year in the U.S. Senate campaign between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Rick Berg.
By Rob Port
That probably depends on the tribe, but what needs to be acknowledged is that the tribes have a poor track record in this area.
Can we say that non-tribal members will generally get a fair trial from courts and juries staffed almost exclusively with tribal members? And suppose a non-tribal member is victimized by a tribal member. Can we depend on the tribal courts to bring one of their own to justice?
That’s an important question given what North Dakotans are confronting right now. The Spirit Lake Sioux reservation has been rocked by an abuse scandal in which tribal authorities seem to have been looking the other way while children repeatedly were victimized.
“Federal officials are now moving to take over the tribe’s social service programs, according to members of the tribe, government officials and documents,” reported the New York Times last year. “The action comes after years of failure by government and tribal law enforcement officials to conduct proper investigations of dozens of cases of child sexual abuse, including rape.”
That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the tribes are ready to exercise the expanded jurisdiction the VAWA grants them.
I have personal reasons for doubting the tribal justice system as well. In May 2007, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa banished me from their lands for publishing a magazine column, cross posted on my website, titled “The appalling state of our Indian reservations.” This was done using the tribal exclusion code, which normally is used to remove criminals such as drug dealers and sex criminals from the reservations. In this case, it was invoked through a resolution that also required the magazine that had published my column to retract it and apologize.
First Port raises a general "concern." "Can we depend on the tribal courts to bring one of their own to justice?" he asks.
Well, can we depend on mainstream courts run by white people to "bring one of their own to justice?" How about British, French, or Japanese courts?
Why would tribal courts be any better or worse? The only reason to single them out is if you're prejudiced against Indians--i.e., a racist.
Then he raises specific "concerns." One involves a tribe's social services, not its courts. Another one sounds like a council resolution, not a court decision.
So this column offers exactly two examples from 566 recognized tribes--neither of which explicitly involves a tribal court. Talk about your sloppy journalism. Fail!
For more on the subject, see VAMA Passes Over Conservative Objections.