Tester Introduces Major Legislation to Help Indian Country Fight Growing Drug Epidemic

New Bill will Restore Tribal Jurisdiction to Prosecute Drug Offenses and Crimes Against Children

(U.S. Senate)-In an effort to address the growing drug epidemic in Indian Country, Senator Jon Tester today introduced legislation to restore criminal prosecution jurisdiction to Native American tribes.

Tester’s bill, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act, will reestablish the ability for tribes to arrest and prosecute any offender for drug related crimes, domestic violence against children, and crimes committed against tribal law enforcement officers.

“Tribal communities must have every tool they need to protect themselves from folks who traffic illegal drugs and harm children in Indian Country,” Tester said. “This bill gives tribes certainty and provides tribal law enforcement with the tools they need to police and prosecute every criminal in their community.”

“NCAI appreciates Senator Tester’s attention to criminal jurisdiction issues in Indian Country, especially in protecting our native youth. Restoration of tribal criminal jurisdiction is an essential governmental service that all tribes need to protect their communities and create social wellbeing throughout Indian Country,” said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians.

In Montana, the Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, and Fort Belknap Tribes have all recently declared states of emergency due to the increase in drug related crimes on their reservations.

Currently, many criminals committing drug offenses or crimes against children in Indian Country can only be arrested and prosecuted by state or federal law enforcement officials due in part to the varying level of authority, proximity, and capacity between state, federal, and tribal law enforcement.

In 1978, the Supreme Court decision, Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, limited the tribes’ criminal jurisdiction, gravely impacting tribes’ ability to administer justice in Indian Country.

In 2013, Congress passed legislation that restores the tribes’ authority to arrest and prosecute any offender for acts of domestic violence against their partner, but the law does not protect children and other tribal members.

Tester’s Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act is available HERE.