On Indian Land, Criminals Can Get Away With Almost Anything

One of the sticking points on the Violence Against Women Act over the last few months has been the extension of jurisdiction for Native American tribal governments to crimes committed on reservations by non-Indians. This article by Sierra Crane-Murdoch for The Atlantic illustrates some of the challenges officials face when confronting crime on tribal land.

In 1978, the Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish stripped tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian land. If both victim and perpetrator are non-Indian, a county or state officer must make the arrest. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim an enrolled member, only a federally certified agent has that right. If the opposite is true, a tribal officer can make the arrest, but the case still goes to federal court.

Even if both parties are tribal members, a U.S. attorney often assumes the case, since tribal courts lack the authority to sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. The harshest enforcement tool a tribal officer can legally wield over a non-Indian is a traffic ticket.

Trigger warning for rape on the full article, but it’s worth reading up on the complexities of this problem, which the U.S. government has essentially constructed for itself.