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GOP bill report questions data on crime against Indian women

A Republican-controlled House committee adopted a report on Tuesday that questions long-held statistics on domestic violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.

The Obama administration and tribes have repeatedly cited Department of Justice studies that show most perpetrators of domestic violence against Indian women are non-Indian. The data is being used to justify the restoration of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

But in a report that accompanies H.R.4970, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the House Judiciary Committee claims the data is flawed. The report points to a 2008 study by former South Dakota attorney general Larry Long, a noted foe of tribes on land-into-trust, jurisdiction, voting rights, sovereignty and other issues.

"In meetings with committee staff, both the Justice Department and Indian tribe representatives acknowledge that the non-Indian DV offender statistics previously relied upon as justification for granting tribes criminal jurisdiction of non-Indian defendants are flawed," the House report states.

Long's study, however, was unique to South Dakota, where the majority of the Indian population resides on reservations. Most, but not all, reservations in the state are also majority Indian.

As a result, crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault are more likely to be committed by fellow Indians, Long acknowledged. That's not the case in most other states where non-Indians outnumber Indians in and around reservations.

"In the rural context within and around Indian country, American Indian violent victimization rates tend to be opposite of the urban setting," Long wrote.

Long's study included data from the state justice system. He found that Indian victims were 37 percent of all first and second-degree rape victims despite being only 8.3 percent of the population, a rate comparable to what DOJ has found.

But since most of the crimes in South Dakota involved Indian offenders on reservations, they end up in the federal system. As a result, the data that Long examined from the U.S. Attorney's Office reflects nearly exclusively Indian-Indian crime patterns.

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