Opinion: Tribes and national sex offender registry

"In the wake of a new federal law aimed at tracking sex offenders, tribal leaders and victim advocates are discussing the best course of action. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (PL 109-248), passed by the Senate in July 2006, expands the National Sex Offender Registry. The act establishes a comprehensive national system for the registration of sex offenders. It requires all jurisdictions - states, territories and Indian tribes - to maintain a sex offender registry that conforms to the requirements under the new act. Unfortunately, the new federal law strips Indian tribes within PL-280 jurisdictions of the ability to participate in the new registry. The act creates additional obstacles for tribal governments attempting to protect their citizens.

The National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution in late February calling for amendments to the act. The resolution notes that Section 127 of the Adam Walsh Act ''addresses Indian tribes and was included without any hearings, consultation or consideration of the views of tribal governments and current tribal practices.''

''If the goal of the act is to provide law enforcement agencies across the country with the same access to information about the registration of sex offenders in the United States, Indian tribes must be included in their capacity as governments,'' said Juana Majel, NCAI recording secretary.

Section 127 requires that tribal governments not affected by PL-280 pass a resolution by July 27 indicating their intent and desire to participate in the national system and meet the requirements of the act. Without such a tribal resolution, the new act forever strips Indian tribes of the authority to maintain a registry and places it under the state government. State management of the tribal sex offender registry includes entering tribal lands to enforce the requirements of the act. The NCAI resolution calls this an ''expansion of state jurisdiction on tribal lands [that] represents an unprecedented diminishment of tribal sovereignty.''

According to Maureen White Eagle, a staff attorney at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in Saint Paul, ''[t]he states and those tribes that decide to 'opt in' by the July 27, 2007 deadline agree to participate in an integrated, uniform registry system.'' NCAI and other national advocacy organizations are encouraging tribal governments to pass a resolution to protect their authority to engage in sex offender registration and tracking."

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