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Cherokee tribes support Senate bill to expand criminal authority






Leaders of the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians sign resolutions during their annual tri-council meeting. Photo from Cherokee Nation / Facebook

A bill to expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians is seeing support from some of the largest tribes in the United States.

The Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians are calling for passage of S.2785, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act. The measure expands on the Violence Against Women Act by recognizing the "inherent authority" of tribes to arrest, prosecute and sentence any person -- regardless of race -- for drug crimes, domestic violence against children and crimes against law enforcement.

The tribes expressed their support for the bill at their annual tri-council meeting last week. The Eastern Band introduced a resolution that passed unanimously during the June 15-17 gathering in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

"We've weighed in on this and we're in support of this bill and I thought it would be good if all three tribes come together on this," Bill Taylor, the chairman of the Eastern Band Council, said during the meeting.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is considering the bill at a business meeting on Wednesday. A hearing took place on May 18 and tribal witnesses testified in support.

"It is clear that the starting place to reverse historical jurisdictional problems and injustice in Indian Country is by empowering tribal justice systems," Alfred Urbina, the attorney general for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, told the committee. The tribe was one of the first to exercise authority over non-Indians through S.47, the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The 2013 law only covers certain domestic violence crimes and it only applies to non-Indians with ties to a tribal community. With data showing that Native women and men are more likely to be victimized by offenders of another race, Native women are calling for greater recognition of tribal authority.

"This research that came out was alarming and shocking," said Terri Henry, a former chair of the Eastern Band Council, said at a briefing on Capitol Hill last week. "It's really kind of made us stand back and think, 'It's worse than we were saying.'"

The resolution in support of S.2785 was one of three that were adopted during the Cherokee tri-council. The 2017 meeting will be hosted by the United Keetoowah Band.

"Any time we can come together and have meaningful discussions on issues affecting all Cherokees, it's a good thing," Cherokee Nation Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. "It's even better when we agree to move forward with sound resolutions that help our people."

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