Opinion: Create US Attorney for Indian Country
"Conditions in this obscure country, as reported by sources ranging from Amnesty International to a U.S. Senate committee, are appalling. One in three women will be raped in her lifetime. Half the reported murders and 72% of child sex crimes are never prosecuted. Ninety percent of sexual assaults on native women are committed by men from the dominant ethnic groups. The nation's highest courts regularly reverse convictions based solely on the defendant's race.

This country is not Sudan, Rwanda or Kosovo during ethnic cleansing. Rather, this is the state of law enforcement today on the 310 Indian reservations that are home to nearly a million Native American citizens of the United States.

"Indian Country" — the federal government's name for the 54 million acres of reservation lands in the United States — is larger than Minnesota or Utah. The layers of social ills on most reservations — alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, malnutrition and chronic disease — are a well-documented national shame. But the failure of the U.S. government to provide equal legal protection to victims of serious crimes, who happen to be Native American, is just bizarre.

One immediate solution that Congress and the Obama administration should consider is a separate office of the U.S. attorney for Indian country (USAIC). The jurisdiction of the USAIC would extend to all Indian reservation and trust lands. The USAIC would have the authority to investigate felonies on Indian reservations nationwide, seek indictments and pursue prosecutions, without regard to the race of the defendant. Cases would be brought by the USAIC in the judicial district where the crime was committed, like any other case brought by the U.S. attorney for that district.

The critical difference would be that serious crimes on reservations — by Indians as well as non-Indians — would receive the same level of prosecutorial resources as an offense committed outside the reservation. At the same time, the jurisdiction of the USAIC would not be limited to violent crimes but would extend to the full range of federal offenses, including political corruption, financial fraud and narcotics trafficking in Indian country."

Get the Story:
Mark J. MacDougall and Katherine Deming Brodie: Strange justice in Indian country (The National Law Journal 9/28)