Allow Tribes to Combat Crime

Target: United States Senate, Indian Affairs Committee

Goal: Fund tribal police forces and give tribes criminal jurisdiction on their territory

Going back to 1881, Native Americans have steadily lost jurisdiction over many serious criminal offenses that take place within their territory. The federal government’s meddling began in the 1800’s when non-Indians brought a Brule Lakota man to a territorial court which sentenced him to hang, expressly ignoring that the tribe had already settled the matter according to Lakota tradition. The Supreme Court overruled the lower court’s decision, but Congress countered by passing the Major Crimes Act which granted federal courts jurisdiction over murder, rape, arson and other major crimes within Indian territory.

The 20th century brought further infringements on tribal sovereignty.   1953 saw the extension of certain state jurisdictions into tribal land through Public Law 280. In 1978, tribal courts’ jurisdiction was overruled by the Supreme Court in all cases involving non-Indian defendants.

This labyrinth of jurisdiction on tribal lands means state or federal police are rarely first responders. Instead, tribal police do the initial investigation and witness collection, while lacking authority to judge over the case.

As a result, Indian lands have become a “safe haven” for sexual predators, human traffickers, and domestic abusers. In the case of sexual violence, according to Hallie Bongar White, director of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy, “Native women just expect that they will be raped…that there will be no accountability for perpetrators, that they will not have good access or any access to emergency sexual-assault health care and follow-up.”

To help protect Native Americans, Congress must give those tribes that have the resources the option of being sovereign in criminal cases, and must also switch from a grant system to a base-funding system for tribal police forces. Sign the following petition to give tribes the support they need.


Dear United States Senate Indian Affairs Committee,

The encroachment of federal and state jurisdiction into Indian lands has been increasing since Congress passed the Major Crimes Act in 1881. The labyrinth of jurisdiction created by the Major Crimes Act, Public Law 280 (1953), and the 1978 Supreme Court decision, Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, has left tribal police forces and courts unfunded and unable to adjudicate over serious crimes within their territory. This, combined with the inability for state and federal police to quickly respond to crimes on tribal lands, has created a “safe haven” for sexual predators, human traffickers and domestic abusers on tribal lands.

I urge you to make Indian criminal law reform a Congressional priority for the Indian Affairs Committee in 2014. Pass legislation to allow tribes with adequate resources to have jurisdiction over all criminal matters and switch to a base-funding system for all tribal police forces. Please protect Indian men, women, and children from sexual violence and other serious crimes.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Grand Canyon National Park via Flickr

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48 Signatures

  • Amber Lee
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