"Domestic violence is not our tradition!" Participants in the 75th annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Denver, Colorado, wore purple on October 25, 2018, in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians is asserting jurisdiction over non-Indians who abuse their domestic partners as efforts to expand the Violence Against Women Act remain in limbo.

The Michigan-based tribe is the latest to comply with the provisions of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The historic law recognizes the "inherent" authority of tribes to arrest, prosecute and punish non-Indians for some domestic violence crimes.

“Tribal law enforcement officers are no longer required to obtain federal permission to arrest a non-Indian who perpetrates domestic violence against an Indian," Chair Sam McClellan said in a press release posted by Turtle Talk. "Bad actors who assault our women are on notice: They will be prosecuted and put in jail.”

In order to exercise their jurisdiction over all offenders, tribes must ensure their judicial systems protect the rights of defendants. The Grand Traverse Band updated its laws to provide for jury trials and access to attorneys, for example.

The 2013 version of the Violence Against Women Act does not cover all domestic violence crimes, including those affecting children and law enforcement. It also does not address sexual assaults committed by strangers.

Tribes have called on Congress to close these loopholes but efforts to reauthorize VAWA have not moved forward on Capitol Hill due to lack of support among Republicans. Without further action, the law is due to expire on December 7, which will affect continued funding for programs that tribes depend on to help victims and improve their justice systems.

The expiration of the law, however, will not disturb the tribal jurisdiction provisions.

Despite the lack of movement on the Democratic version of VAWA, a key Republican staffer told the National Congress of American Indians last week that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is planning to host a roundtable on missing and murdered people before the end of the year. H.R.6545, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018, includes provisions to address the crisis.

The committee also has held hearings on stand-alone bills that would expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians, as well as address missing and murdered Indian women and girls. Provisions of these measures have been included in H.R.6545.

"You've got my support," Mike Andrews, the Republican staff majority director on the committee, said last Monday during NCAI's 75th annual convention in Denver, Colorado, when asked about efforts to reauthorize VAWA. "You've got the committee's support."

“I’ll back you if you back us on VAWA,” NCAI Secretary Juana Majel-Dixon had told Andrews. Majel-Dixon chairs NCAI's Task Force on Violence Against Women.

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