Signing of tribal law act welcomed

Billings Gazette

by Susan Olp

With violence on Indian reservations more than two times the national average, the Tribal Law and Order Act signed Thursday by President Barack Obama is expected to combat the problem.

The bill passed the U.S. Senate on June 23 and the House on July 21. Its backers believe it will help in a number of ways.

Among the law’s provisions:

  • Authorizes appointment of special assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute crimes in tribal communities in federal court.
  • Provides tribal courts with tougher sentencing powers.
  • Allows some tribal police officers to enforce federal laws on Indian lands, as well as increases recruitment and retention efforts of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal law officers.
  • Requires tribal and federal officers serving Indian Country to be trained in interviewing victims of sexual assault and collecting evidence at crime scenes.
  • Requires federal investigators and prosecutors to maintain information on cases that occur on Indian lands that are closed or declined for prosecution in federal court and share that information with tribal justice officials.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who attended Thursday afternoon’s bill signing, said the legislation will combat a serious problem on reservations.

“We’ve got some issues of violence in Indian Country,” said Tester, a Montana Democrat and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “This will address those issues and will reduce violence, making communities safe, allowing business to grow and families to thrive.

“The bottom line is you don’t have economic growth with unsafe communities.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also attended the signing, said the bill will “help combat violence and lawlessness and ensure that more crimes are prosecuted on reservations.”

“This legislation reflects the continuing commitment of President Obama to work closely with tribal leaders to improve safety in Indian communities and to tackle the years of neglect of law enforcement needs,” Salazar said in a written statement.

According to congressional and Department of Justice statistics, tribes in the U.S. experience rates of violent crimes of two to 10 times the national average. More than one in three Native American and Alaska native women will be raped in their lifetimes, and two in five Native women will suffer domestic or partner violence.