, Muskogee, OK

February 1, 2013

Separate VAWA from tribal issue

— Congress should pass the Violence Against Women Act immediately but remove the expansion of tribal court jurisdiction for a separate, meaningful discussion.

VAWA helps fund many local programs such as the Women In Safe Home shelter and provides domestic violence training for law enforcement. The act is too important to allow an important, controversial issue to delay its approval.

VAWA was first enacted in 1994.

Congress failed to reauthorize the act in 2012 after it expired in late 2011.

Congress balked in part because of a provision that would have allowed non-Native Americans to be tried in tribal courts on domestic violence charges.

Federal courts have jurisdiction over domestic violence cases allegedly committed by non-Natives on tribal land.

Tribal officials say the feds do not prosecute enough non-Native Americans accused of assaulting tribal members on tribal land.

If that is true, it is beyond tragic if federal prosecutors are not protecting Native women simply because the crimes occurred on tribal land.

Those trials may be better off in state courts, anyway.

There are those who are concerned non-Natives would not have the same constitutional protections in tribal courts as they would in United States courts.

That is a lengthy discussion.

Tribal court expansion is too complicated to be debated quickly.

But the issue is too important to ignore.

In the interest of combating domestic violence now, Congress should delete the tribal court provisions and reauthorize VAWA.

And then, Congress should give the tribal court domestic violence issue the attention it deserves.