Will Violence Against Women Act's new provision improve tribal justice?

Swift Sanchez
In this Sept. 3, 2010 photo, Swift Sanchez, a sergeant with the Suquamish Tribal Police, logs a call on a computer in her vehicle while on patrol on the Suquamish Reservation in Washington state. Across the country, police, prosecutors and judges have been wrestling with the vexing question for decades: Who qualifies as an Indian when it comes to meting out justice for crimes on reservations?
Ted S. Warren/AP

After passage by the Senate earlier this month, the Violence Against Women Act is due for action in the House, possibly this week. The reauthorization of the bill would be a first step in addressing the often-overlooked problem of violence against women on tribal reservations.

Because of complications in the tribal justice system, many assault cases on tribal lands get overlooked or bounced around between tribal law enforcement, state police and the federal government.

From The Washington Post:

In the midst of partisan battles last year, a version of the reauthorization that expanded protections for immigrants; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people; and Native American victims passed in the Senate but stalled in the House. A House version that omitted those provisions failed to win Senate or White House approval.

Will the Violence Against Women provision help close a tribal justice loophole? Supporters say it's not a perfect fix, and the fate of the bill is unclear, but many think it's a good first step in addressing a decades-old problem.

Tom Heffelfinger, former U.S. attorney for Minnesota from 1991-1993 and 2001-2006, will join The Daily Circuit Tuesday Feb. 26 to discuss the bill. Tina Olson, co-director of Mending the Sacred Hoop, will also join the conversation. Her Duluth-based organization works on behalf of Native American women who are domestic violence victims.

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