US Attorney: There is justice in Indian Country

"There is no dispute regarding the staggering rates of victimization in Indian country. Indian women in particular are victimized at more than 2½ times the national average, and more than one-third of Indian women are raped during their lifetimes. It is for this reason that the western district of North Carolina U.S. attorney's office is dedicated to the vigorous prosecution of these crimes. Contrary to Clarkson's assertions, this office does not decline to prosecute violent crimes committed in Indian country, particularly those perpetrated by non-Indians against Indians that lack state or tribal court jurisdiction.

There is also no disputing the fact that because of the historically unique, government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian tribes, jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian country is often a legally and factually complex issue. Unlike the special territorial jurisdictions of the United States, such as our national parks, the federal government lacks general jurisdiction in Indian country. Federal law defines and restricts federal criminal jurisdiction in Indian country. Federal jurisdiction to prosecute criminal cases does not exist for all crimes committed in Indian country, but only for a list of "major crimes" (e.g. murder, kidnapping, arson, sexual abuse and felony assault, to name just a few) perpetrated by Indians (irrespective of the status of the victims), and for all crimes committed by Indian against non-Indians, or by non-Indians against Indians.

The respective state courts only have jurisdiction for crimes involving non-Indians against non-Indians, and the Oliphant decision prevents tribal courts from exercising jurisdiction over non-Indians. Our current system of determining jurisdiction based on an analysis of the Indian status of the participants arose in part by historical accident and in part out of respect for the sovereignty of our Indian tribes. Although complex, these rough waters of jurisdiction are navigable, though often not easily so. A casual reader of [University of Michigan professor Gavin] Clarkson's article might erroneously conclude that non-Indians are subject to no laws while in Indian country. This is not the case. Every crime committed on our nation's Indian reservations has a court of recourse. Indeed, in many cases, criminals in Indian country are prosecuted more vigorously than their counterparts in the state court systems because of overall stricter punishment doled out by the federal courts."

Get the Story:
U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert of Western North Carolina: Justice in Indian country (The Los Angeles Times 8/16)

Amnesty International Report:
Full Report | Press Release

Online Discussion:
Violence against Native American and Alaska Native Women (April 24, 2007)

Relevant Links:
Join Voices with Native American and Alaska Native Women and Take Action to Stop the Violence -

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