While the federal government has increased its involvement in tribal public safety and justice, the primary responsibility for public safety still rests with tribal, state, and local governments. The leaders of tribal nations are committed to building strong and safe communities.
Throughout Indian Country, there are numerous tribal police departments and tribal judicial systems that are the ultimate expression of inherent tribal sovereignty. The ability of any nation to enact, enforce, and interpret its own laws and be governed by them is one of the most recognized powers of any sovereign.
At the same time, the federal government often limits tribes’ ability to address crime on tribal lands including crimes committed by both Native and non-Native perpetrators. NCAI is committed to improving public safety within tribal nations, increasing access to justice for Native peoples, and protecting the health and well-being of tribal citizens.
Recent federal legislative efforts, such as the Tribal Law & Order Act, are giving tribes a renewed sense of hope that much-needed improvements are forthcoming in the administration of justice on tribal lands.
The Challenge Ahead
American Indians and Alaska Natives experience much higher per capita rates of violence than those of the general population. One in every three Indian women are raped in their lifetimes. The rate of aggravated assault among Native people is roughly twice that of the country as a whole (600.2 per 100,000 versus 323.6 per 100,000). American Indians and Alaska Natives are the victims of violent crime at twice the rate of African Americans, two and a half times that of Caucasians, and four and a half times that of Asian Americans. According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 percent of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men.
These high crime rates have resulted in a dire public safety situation in Indian Country. However, there is light on the horizon: Several recent shifts in law and policy have begun strengthening tribes’ ability to respond to crime on the reservation and to make their communities safe again.
The current public safety problems on tribal lands are the result of decades of gross underfunding for tribal criminal justice systems, a painfully complex jurisdictional scheme, and a centuries-old failure by the federal government to fulfill its public safety obligations on Indian lands. Tribal governments should be an essential part of the response to violent crime in Indian Country; however, federal law has complicated tribal governments’ administration of justice on their own lands. Tribes are forced to rely on federal officials (or state officials in Public Law 280 states) for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes and other felonies committed on Indian reservations. And, unfortunately for tribes, federal and state authorities have historically neglected these responsibilities in Indian Country.
Recent shifts in federal law and policy have given tribes a renewed sense of hope for the future. For example, the Tribal Law & Order Act (TLOA), enacted in 2010, takes a comprehensive approach toward reforming tribal justice systems by empowering tribal law enforcement officials, holding federal officials accountable, encouraging more tribal-state collaboration, and reauthorizing critical tribal justice programs. The Obama Administration has taken an active role in implementing the TLOA and other public safety initiatives in Indian Country.
NCAI will continue to support these efforts and looks forward to future opportunities to collaborate with the federal government in strengthening tribal justice systems and improving the overall administration of justice in Indian Country.
For more information on the following public safety issues in tribal communities, please click below:
VAWA Toolkit Speak Out & Act Now!
Aug 02, 2019
Tribal Juvenile Justice Background & Recommendations
May 02, 2019
VAWA 2013's Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Five-Year Report
Mar 20, 2018
Testimony & Speeches
NCAI Testimony on “Addressing the Need for Victim Services in Indian Country”
Jun 11, 2019
Testimony of the National Congress of American Indians House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Hearing on the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
Mar 07, 2019
NCAI President Keel Testifies at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act
Mar 20, 2018
Calling for the Inclusion of Tribal Nations and their Unique Needs in Police Reform Discussions, Policies, and Legislation
Nov 13, 2020
Calling on Congress, the BIA, and FEMA to Establish and Support On-Reservation Residential Fire Protection Programs and Grants
Nov 13, 2020
Holding the Department of Homeland Security Accountable to Tribal Nations
Nov 13, 2020
Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
Jun 01, 2013
Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives to Resume Remote Listening Sessions
May 22, 2020
Protect ICWA Campaign Partners to Attend Fifth Circuit Court’s Brackeen v. Bernhardt Rehearing
Jan 21, 2020
Protect ICWA Campaign Applauds Legal Filing by Large Coalition of Tribal Nations and Native Organizations Defending the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
Dec 13, 2019