“That’s My People” and VAWA Tribal Provisions

Posted on April 13, 2012 by


The Department of Justice does not exactly have a rep on the interwebs for hosting awesome video content. Not surprisingly, this public service announcement was not actually created by DOJ. Good thing, too, because if DOJ ever creates a video I actually like, it’s gonna seriously mess with my current paradigm.

Tribal justice remains hard to come by, and the youth in these videos suggest some of the many challenges of their communities. While the current Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization fight seems to be focused on the War on Women, there is a tribal component as well.

Reauthorization opponents suggest that some of the new provisions are inappropriately taking powers and jurisdictional rights away from the federal government and giving them to tribes.  In fact, this is not the case at all. Currently, tribes can only prosecute for crimes that are committed within their physical jurisdictions by tribal members. So a white person. committing a crime like domestic violence against a tribal member on tribal land, can not be handled by the tribal criminal justice system.

Prosecution is left, instead, to the federal government. And the feds aren’t prosecuting much of anything outside of the most serious events, like homicide. The new VAWA provisions simply allow for concurrent jurisdiction.  Tribes would be allowed to handle crimes committed within their physical jurisdictions, regardless of the offender’s tribal affiliation status.

Why does anyone have a problem with that? Especially given that the federal government can still step in as well? When foreign nationals commit crimes on American soil, we don’t hesitate to process them through our criminal justice system. Can you imagine a system that said that any foreigner who commits a crime here has to be processed by the CJS of their country of origin?  Of course not. It’s absurd.

Justice in Indian country means closing this gap. It might be a different conversation if the federal government was keeping up with its responsibility to prosecute, but they aren’t. Right now, it’s like a free-for-all playground for those who abuse women and commit other crimes not worthy of federal attention. As long as you’re white, the tribal justice system can’t touch you and the federal system won’t bother.

Time to change. Justice for the young tribal youth in the PSA means holding non-tribal members accountable when they commit crimes on tribal land against tribal members.

‘Nuff said. Or not. Weigh in on the comments section if you’d like.