by Nathan Empsall, Sun Mar 07, 2010 at 04:05:42 PM EST
This post is from Wednesday, but as it recieved less time on the front page than normal and is a rarely covered but incredibly important topic, I'm giving it a weekend bump on a slow Sunday. -N
1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their lifetime, twice the national average. In Idaho, if state lawmakers don't pass a bill before them now, the problem will get worse before it gets better.
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe that sovereign Indian nations do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives traveling or even living in Indian Country. For a variety of nonsensical and unprecedented legal reasons, Tribal police and courts only have authority over other Indians. This is akin to telling the Montana State Police that the law doesn’t apply to Minnesota residents passing through on I-90.
Except for a few “Public Law 280” states, state and local authorities also lack jurisdiction on Indian reservations, per the Constitution’s commerce clause and a number of Court precedents. That means jurisdiction falls to the feds, who don’t do their job. As Chickasaw Tribal Police Chief Jason O’Neal told NPR in 2007, “’Many of the criminals know Indian lands are almost a lawless community, where they can do whatever they want.’… A 2003 report from the Justice Department found that U.S. attorneys take fewer cases from the BIA than from almost any other federal-law enforcement agency.”
The real world result? 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their life, compared to 1 in 6 women nationally. 41% of those women report being raped by a stranger rather than an acquaintance, compared to 16.7% nationally. As Chief O’Neal points out, these strangers are not from within the Indian communities, so we can’t point to reservation issues as the problem - 80% of attacks against Indians are from non-Natives. Overall, the violent crime rate in Indian country is twice the national average. (All numbers are from various Justice Department reports.)
Last month, it looked like things were going to get worse for American Indians in northern Idaho before they got better, but thankfully the state is taking the right steps. To make up for the lack of federal activity, tribes can make deals with local or state law enforcement agencies to cross-deputize tribal officers and give them the necessary jurisdiction. Last month, however, Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts, whose county includes the southern half of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Reservation, refused to re-instate a cross-deputization agreement with tribal police. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also said he would no longer respond to tribal calls for help, leaving the southern half of the Reservation completely lawless. Of the 10,000 people on the reservation, over 8,000 are non-Natives now free to break the law.
The proposed solution now before the legislature and more below the jump.