DOJ Punts Tribal SORNA Implementation to States

A deadline is approaching for tribes to implement the sex offender registration requirements (SORNA) of the Adam Walsh Act, a 2006 bill aimed at enhancing the powers of states and law enforcement states to monitor and civilly commit "sexually dangerous persons."

Tribes who enact their own systems will retain a degree of autonomy, although at least five tribes have explicitly opted out of implementing the requirements independently, and nine tribes have allowed the option to lapse by failing to file a Resolution of Other Enactment. These tribes will have their SORNA requirements handled by the states, after consultation with the Department of Justice's Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehension, Registering and Tracking (SMART). Persistent ambiguity in tribal law can lead to ad hoc transfers of power and jurisdiction, in this case from from the Attorney General to the states. Even tribes who opted in to the program, but who have failed to implement according to the DOJ's timeframe, will lose their sovereignty to the states in this case.

The deadline to implement, or be deemed capable of doing so in a reasonable amount of time, is July 27, 2011.

DOJ Grants Available for Tribal Justice Programs

The US Department of Justice has announced the availability of multiple grants for organizations working to improve criminal and civil justice systems in Tribal communities.  Tribal and non-tribal non-profit § 501(c)(3)) entities that provide legal assistance services for federally recognized Indian tribes, members of federally recognized Indian tribes, or tribal justice systems pursuant to federal poverty guidelines are eligible for grants to assist with their work. National or regional membership organizations and associations whose membership or a membership section consists of judicial system personnel within tribal justice systems are also eligible. For details on the grant application process click HERE.

Justice Department Unveils Plan of Action for Consultation and Coordination with Tribes

The Justice Department has made public its plan of action, submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to improve consultation and coordination between the Justice Department and tribal nations, as directed by President Barack Obama’s Memorandum on Tribal Consultation. The Presidential Memorandum, signed on Nov. 5, 2009, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, directed each federal agency to submit to OMB within 90 days a plan of action to implement President Clinton’s Executive Order 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments. The Justice Department’s plan was submitted to OMB on January 27, 2010.

The Justice Department’s plan, which is available HERE, identifies the steps it will take to develop a comprehensive consultation and coordination policy with tribal nations, after robust tribal input. In addition, the department’s submission makes a commitment to:

• expand the role of the Office of Tribal Justice;
• create a Tribal Nations Leadership Council to ensure ongoing communication and collaboration with tribal governments;
• convene consultations between tribal leadership and U.S. Attorneys whose jurisdictions include federally-recognized Indian tribes;
• mandate annual meetings between the department’s grants offices and tribal leadership to discuss grants policies, concerns or funding priorities;
• create a new federal-tribal taskforce to develop strategies and guidance for federal and tribal prosecutions of crimes of violence against women in tribal communities; and
• publish a progress report within 270 days of the Presidential Memorandum evaluating the implementation of these reforms.

The Justice Department’s plan of action was driven largely by input gathered from the department’s own Tribal Nations Listening Session in late October 2009 and from the department’s annual tribal consultation on violence against women, as well as from written comments submitted by tribal governments, groups and organizations to the Justice Department and tribal consultation conference calls conducted by the Office of Tribal Justice.
The department’s plan to improve consultation and coordination with tribal governments comes a month after Attorney General Eric Holder announced sweeping reforms within the department to improve safety on tribal land. The Attorney General also announced that the Justice Department’s FY 2010 appropriation included an additional $6 million for Indian Country prosecution efforts, enabling the department to bring the federal justice system closer to Indian Country. More information is avalable HERE.       

Tulalip Elder Court Members Honored With Local Heroes Award


The seven Tribal members who make up the Tulalip Elder Court have been honored by the Washington State Bar Association with its Local Hero Award. The award recognizes the Court’s effective work in reducing recidivism in young offenders, and its focus on cultural and spiritual integration in the legal system.

First-time offenders between the ages of 18 and the mid-20s who face misdemeanor charges in Tulalip Tribal Court can elect to appear before the Elder Court instead. There, the young offenders are required to fulfill a series of requirements that often more resemble tribal traditions than standard punishments. A young adult in Elder Court could be asked to create a family tree by interviewing older family members, or to attend a traditional event in the tribal longhouse. It’s not unusual for young adults who create family trees to discover that they are related in some way to Court members. Such realizations foster the understanding that an entire community is relying on them to be a productive member of society.

Each youth is required to meet regularly with the Elder Court as he or she moves through the process of turning away from crime. Court statistics reflect that fewer than 10 percent of the youth who proceed through Elder Court are returned for subsequent offenses.

MacArthur Foundation Grant Awarded To UW Native American Law Center For Tribal Youth Justice Program

Picture of Ron  Whitener

Professor Ron Whitener - UW Native American Law Center

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has just announced a $225,000 grant award to the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center, which will fund the Center’s ground-breaking new program to help Tribal communities develop strategies to address the needs of Native American children in state and Tribal juvenile justice systems. The program and grant were conceived and will be managed by Professor Ron Whitener, a Director of the University’s Native American Law Center. Professor Whitener is Assistant Professor of Law and the Director of the Tribal Court Criminal Defense Clinic at the University, is Of Counsel to the law firm of Foster Pepper PLLC in Seattle, and serves as Chief Judge for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis.

The MacArthur Foundation is an international organization that supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.