Building Momentum For Change: Ending the Maze of Injustice

( – promoted by navajo)

Will Native American women finally get equal protection under the law?

Right now Native American women on reservations are 3 times as likely to be raped as a white woman. Due to an insanely complex series of jurisdictional issues, limited law enforcement, minimal political will and racism, perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence against Native American women often commit their crimes with impunity, knowing they will likely never face prosecution. All of this was documented in sickening detail last year by Amnesty International’s report Maze of Injustice

Senator Byron Dorgan

Today, Senator Byron Dorgan introduced the Tribal Law and Order Act in the Senate.

The legislation is designed to boost law enforcement efforts by providing tools to tribal justice officials to fight crime in their own communities, improving coordination between law enforcement agencies, and increasing accountability standards.

Will this legislation stop the violence?

The Tribal Law and Order Act has three primary goals:

First, it would make it easier for tribal police… to arrest non-Indians who commit federal crimes on tribal lands, including sexual assault. Second, it would increase the sentencing power of tribal courts by allowing them to put convicted tribal members behind bars for three years instead of one – and even send them to federal prison. Third, the bill would increase accountability for U.S. attorneys by requiring them to keep a record of every case on tribal lands they decline to prosecute.

Truthfully, to me, these sound like baby steps in the right direction. Allowing tribal police to arrest non-Indian perpetrators is a start… but how about letting tribal prosecutors actually be the ones to bring charges?

Right now, if a perpetrator is convicted of a crime in a tribal court, the maximum sentence the tribal court can impose is one year in jail. Murder, rape, torture… a maximum of one year in jail. This bill will expand that to three years – an improvement to be sure, but three years for rape? Three years for murder? Still very weak.

Georgia Little Shield, Director of Pretty Bird Woman House spoke about the importance of that final accountability plank for US attorneys with NPR:

“I sit with women who cry and are mad because the feds didn’t want to pick up the case. This bill, I think, would give women more of a right, that the prosecutor’s got to be more accountable for federal jurisdiction on these cases. And he’s going to have to be accountable for the cases he doesn’t prosecute,” Littleshield said.

Overall, the bill looks like a promising step forward. But the reality is that this is a journey of a thousand miles, and this is just one step. There is much more to do.

Props to the bills cosponsors: Senators Murkowski, Biden, Domenici, Baucus, Bingaman, Lieberman, Kyl, Johnson, Smith, Cantwell, Thune, Tester. Who the hell would have guessed I’d ever give props to Murkowski and Lieberman? To her credit, Murkowski has actually seemed to be somewhat proactive on these issues.

Hat tip to Pager from Daily Kos. I would have missed this without her.

Audio of the NPR story is right here.


  1. than just the sexual assault/domestic violence aspects, it covers all criminal activity. But I only feel competent to comment on this aspect.

  2. Having more cops may help decrease some crimes and woman beating may be one of them, I hope so. My concern is also for the tremendous amount of our youth that is being institutionalized, from reform schools to prisons our youth is being sent away for all kinds of things white kids don’t worry about. Chest thumping congressmen have passed federal laws that keep justice far away from the court. Judges are there only to preside and pronounce long sentances, they have no power to administer justice even if they wanted to.

    Only Indian children have to face federal law on most charges and if found guilty they do enormous amounts of time, no parole or good time in the federal system so they have no hope. Their white counterparts have many more options including plea agreements to lessen time and rehab facilities for kids who need them. They get to go to a local court where the police know their families and they at least have a chance. The ndn kids would do big time for the same crime under federal laws.

    Also Indians do not get a jury of their peers, ever. There are no federal courts on or even near any rez. We’re taken to either Rapid City, Sioux Falls or Pierre where we’re tried in front of a jury of white people. South Dakota is like 90% white. Conviction of Indians is seen as a civic duty to the white populance around here. This has been proven by three seperate federal civil rights investigations and hearings.

    John Thune is especially strong on getting more cops on the rez. But everyone with a brain can see it’s the fucking tremendous poverty that is sucking the life out of the people. Every racial and ethnic group in America has proven that once dire poverty ends and people get jobs the social ills go to the level of society in general. It isn’t more prisons or cops that heals them,
    it’s the economy for us too, stupid! to quote a famous American.

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