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Tribes could regain authority to prosecute non-natives

On October 31 U.S. Senator and Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka proposed legislation that would give tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Indians who committed crimes on tribal lands.

The authority to prosecute non-Natives in tribal courts was stripped in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling. Supporters of Senator Akaka’s bill say that the 1978 ruling led to an increase in violence on reservations and has resulted in unprosecuted and unpunished offenders.

The bill, called Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women, hopes to specifically address the disproportionately high rates of domestic abuse, sexual assault and murder of native women.

Governor Matt Mead says logistics with jurisdiction are important to keep in mind.

"If the plan is to be able to bring non-Natives into Tribal Court, the first question is going to be, is the sixth Amendment guarantees going to be there?  Are they going to be provided counsel? Are those attorneys or are they legal advisors?" Mead said. "I think the expectation would be that if you’re going to bring people into Native courts, non-Natives, that the protections of the constitution would be the same as they would be in any other court. "

Governor Mead also said that in Wyoming tribal leadership has not necessarily demanded a more robust court system because prosecutions do get done, even if not necessarily by tribal courts.

Irina Zhorov is a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the University of Wyoming. In between, she worked as a photographer and writer for Philadelphia-area and national publications. Her professional interests revolve around environmental and energy reporting and she's reported on mining issues from Wyoming, Mexico, and Bolivia. She's been supported by the Dick and Lynn Cheney Grant for International Study, the Eleanor K. Kambouris Grant, and the Social Justice Research Center Research Grant for her work on Bolivian mining and Uzbek alpinism. Her work has appeared on Voice of America, National Native News, and in Indian Country Today, among other publications.

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