Congress Moves on the 2009 Tribal Law and Order Act

December 18, 2009

On Thursday, December 10th, the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing to discuss the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009, for which AIUSA was invited to submit written testimony. The bill, a close approximation of the early Senate draft of the bill, would make crucial and desperately needed reforms in tribal justice systems, helping to address the epidemic of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women and girls.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has worked to document the disconcerting realities of law enforcement in Indian Country, especially as they impact the capacity and ability to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women and girls. Our research found that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general. In recent months, as both the House and Senate have made headway in pushing their respective bills through committee, it seems that Congressional leaders are finally realizing the true urgency of reforming tribal law enforcement.

Both bills would make crucial steps in ensuring justice in Indian Country. These bills mandate and create structures for improving communication, transparency, and data sharing between tribal, state, and Federal agencies, increase tribal prosecutorial authorities, expand and emphasize the importance of data collection and analysis, and call for the US Attorney General’s Office to document cases it refuses to prosecute. The bills also require training for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to domestic and sexual violent crimes and require Indian Health Services to improve services for victims of sexual assault.

As the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 has gained visibility and support within Congress, President Obama seems to have taken note as well and appears to be actively following through on this issue that was not only a campaign promise, but a critical platform of his presidential campaign. On November 5th, the President cemented his support of the TLOA at the groundbreaking Tribal Nations Conference,

I also strongly support the Tribal Law and Order Act, and I thank Chairman Dorgan and Representative Herseth-Sandlin for their leadership on this issue. And I look forward to Congress passing it so I can sign it into law.

At the Conference, which was attended by representatives of hundreds of federally recognized tribes, Obama signed a long-awaited memorandum directing every Cabinet agency to submit, within 90 days, a detailed plan with strategies to improve and ensure regular and meaningful consultation and coordination with tribes.

This post was contributed by Angela Chang and Alexandra Robinson.