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Highlights from Day 2 of National Congress of American Indians

Filed Under: National | Politics
More on: bia, cherokee, icwa, jurisdiction, meetings, military, ncai, oklahoma, shutdown, tloa, tribal courts, vawa, veterans

The National Congress of American Indians holds its 70th annual convention all week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Monday. Here are some of the highlights of the second day of the conference.

Honoring Dusten Brown
Cherokee Nation citizen Dusten Brown was forced to give up his daughter to a non-Indian couple in a highly-charged Indian Child Welfare Act dispute but the message from NCAI on Tuesday was one of hope and support.

Brown, an active duty U.S. Army soldier, was presented with a star quilt and eagle feathers for himself and his father, also a veteran, during a moving ceremony on the convention floor. Dozens of veterans came out to support their comrade, who ended his legal appeals just last Thursday.

There was also an eagle plume. It was a sign of hope -- to be given to Brown's daughter when she returns for Cherokee naming ceremony.

"Veronica will always be a Cherokee citizen, and we look forward to the day she comes home to Dusten," said Joe Crittenden, the tribe's deputy chief.

Sandy White Hawk, a veteran and member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, helped organize the ceremony. She was adopted as a child but later connected with her Indian family and urged everyone to keep Brown, his daughter, his family and even the non-Indian couple in their prayers.

"We need to bring a collective healing," White Hawk said.

Brown did not make any remarks at the ceremony.

More Shutdown Woes
Tribes have made significant progress with the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010 and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.

The shutdown of the federal government affects the implementation of both laws, however.. After three years of work, the Indian Law and Order Commission has completed its report on the justice system in Indian Country but tribes can't see it because it's being delayed.

"That report is final," said NCAI President Jefferson Keel, who sat on the commission that was created by the Tribal Law and Order Act. "It's being published ... and is on its way to Congress and to the president."

The tribal provisions of VAWA are fresh on the books and don't go into effect until 2015. But some key questions are going unanswered because the Bureau of Indian Affairs isn't fully operational.

The law recognizes tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence offenses against Indian partners. Tribes want to know whether they can house non-Indians in their detention facilities.

The early word from Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn is yes, tribal leaders were told at a breakout session on Tuesday. But the shutdown has delayed an official decision on the matter.

Despite the wait, tribes across the country are examining their justice systems to determine whether they need to make changes to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians. One concern raised was the inclusion of non-Indians in the jury pool.

"This is not something new in Indian Country. We've had jury trials, We have lawyers," said Judge Greg Bigler of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma.

But critics of the law will undoubtedly challenge the legality of tribal jurisdiction, he noted. "This is something that's going to put scrutiny on us," he said.

Related Stories:
Highlights from Day 1 of National Congress of American Indians (10/15)
National Congress of American Indians opens annual meeting (10/14)

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