In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American Indian tribes could not prosecute non-Indians for crimes committed on Indian reservations. Instead, those prosecutions had to be carried out by a federal U.S. Attorney’s office.
The reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) recently passed by the U.S. Congress, however, gives tribal courts new powers to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence or violate personal protection orders on reservations. For the first time in many years, non-Indians may be charged with these crimes by tribal courts.
The update in the VAWA was based on statistics showing that Native American women suffer domestic violence at more than twice the national average rate. Because tribal courts have not been allowed to prosecute suspected incidents of domestic violence and because U.S. Attorney’s offices often lack the resources, over half of domestic violence cases are believed to go un-prosecuted.