TULALIP — The Tulalip Tribes will be one of three American Indian tribes in the nation to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes of domestic and dating violence, regardless of the defendant’s Indian or non-Indian status, under a pilot project authorized by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The two other tribes are the Umatilla in Oregon and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona.
“The Tulalip Tribes is honored to be among those chosen for the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction pilot program,” Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr. said. “Getting justice for our tribal members, where it concerns domestic and intimate partner violence, has been a long time coming. Together, with our fellow tribal nations, we celebrate the fact that the reauthorized VAWA of 2013 has recognized our inherent legal jurisdiction to bring all perpetrators of domestic violence against our members, on our lands, to justice. We lift our hands to all those who fought for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, including our own Tulalip Tribes councilwoman, Deborah Parker.”
“The Tulalip Tribes has shown great leadership with a robust and comprehensive justice system,” U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan said. “This special criminal jurisdiction will translate into better protection for members of the tribal community and their families, and ensure that all offenders are appropriately prosecuted and sanctioned in tribal court. I am grateful for the strong leadership exercised by the Tulalip Tribes, particularly Chairman Mel Sheldon, Council member Deborah Parker and Judge Theresa Pouley. We look forward to continuing our important work with the Tulalips Tribes.”
Deborah Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, worked alongside Sen. Patty Murray and many others to advocate for the new tribal provisions included in VAWA 2013.
“It’s amazing to be at this time and place and to witness such a critical change in law,” Parker said. “Justice will now be served because we have the necessary legal tools to prosecute those who perpetrate against our tribal members on our reservation, regardless of race, religion or affiliation.”
Although the provisions authorizing the special jurisdiction take effect generally in March of 2015, the law also gives the Attorney General discretion to grant a tribe’s request to exercise the jurisdiction earlier, through a voluntary pilot project. The authority to approve such requests has been delegated to Associate Attorney General Tony West, who congratulated tribal leaders on this historic achievement in letters to their three tribes.
“This is just the latest step forward in this administration’s historic efforts to address the public safety crisis in Indian country,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “Every day, we’re working hard to strengthen partnerships with tribal leaders and confront shared challenges, particularly when it comes to protecting Indian women and girls from the shocking and unacceptably high rates of violence they too often face. With the important new tools provided by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, these critical pilot projects will facilitate the first tribal prosecutions of non-Indian perpetrators in recent times. This represents a significant victory for public safety and the rule of law, and a momentous step forward for tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”
“The old jurisdictional scheme failed to adequately protect the public, particularly Native women, with too many crimes going unprosecuted and unpunished amidst escalating violence in Indian Country,” West said. “Our actions today mark an historic turning point. We believe that by certifying certain tribes to exercise jurisdiction over these crimes, we will help decrease domestic and dating violence in Indian Country, strengthen tribal capacity to administer justice and control crime, and ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their criminal behavior.”
Since the Supreme Court’s 1978 opinion in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, tribes have been prohibited from exercising criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian defendants. This included domestic violence and dating violence committed by non-Indian abusers against their Indian spouses, intimate partners and dating partners. Even a violent crime committed by a non-Indian husband against his Indian wife, in the presence of her Indian children, in their home on the Indian reservation, could not be prosecuted by the tribe. In granting the pilot project requests of the Tulalip, Pascua Yaqui and Umatilla tribes today, the United States is recognizing and affirming the tribes’ inherent power to exercise “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” over all persons, regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status.