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Indian Law and Order Commission sets timeline for reform

The Indian Law and Order Commission is urging Congress and the executive branch to implement a sweeping set of reforms within the next 10 years.

The commission released its report, Strengthening Justice for Native America: A roadmap on Tuesday, following three years of work after the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010. Its biggest recommendation is the recognition of tribal authority over all people who commit crimes on their lands.

"Congress should clarify that any tribe that so chooses can opt out immediately, fully or partially, of Federal Indian country criminal jurisdiction and/or congressionally authorized state jurisdiction, except for federal laws of general application," the report states. "Upon a tribe’s exercise of opting out, Congress would immediately recognize the tribe’s inherent criminal jurisdiction over all persons within the exterior boundaries of the tribe’s lands as defined in the federal Indian Country Act."

In order to opt out, tribes will have to protect the constitutional rights of defendants tried in their courts. The commission says Congress should create an entirely new United States Court of Indian Appeals to hear any disputes that might arise.

"The mirror of this special circuit court jurisdiction at the tribal court level is this: tribal courts do not become federal courts for general purposes," the report states. "Tribes retain full and final authority over the definition of the crime, sentencing options, and the appropriate substance and process for appeals outside of the narrow jurisdiction reserved for the new federal circuit court."

A second major recommendation affects Alaska Natives. The commission is calling on Congress to treat former reservation lands that are placed in trust as Indian Country in order to address gaps in state law enforcement.

Alaska Natives are currently excluded from the tribal jurisdiction provisions of S.47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The report says Congress should repeal the exclusion.

"A simple fix is the removal of the one section relating to Alaska, which puts Alaska Native communities on par with Native communities throughout the nation," the report states. "Allowing Tribal courts to issue protective orders, to enforce them, and provide the local, immediate deterrence effect of these judicial actions may be the single-most effective tool in fighting domestic violence and sexual assault in Native communities in Alaska."

Overall, the commission made 40 recommendations. Implementation within 10 years would mark the 100th anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

"American Indian and Alaska Native communities and lands are frequently less safe, and in some instances dramatically more dangerous, than most other places in our country," Troy Eid, a former U.S. Attorney who chairs the commission, said in a press release. "The report is called a 'roadmap' because the commission has a particular destination in mind – to eliminate the public safety gap that threatens so much of Native America."

Get the Story:
Report addresses public safety on tribal land (AP 11/13)

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