Tribes Push for Sovereignty in Violence Against Women Act

Native American leaders are pushing for the support of two more Republican senators as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have recently dropped their support for the re-authorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

Among other new provisions, the bill will give tribes the authority to prosecute non-Indian suspects that commit acts of violence against Native American women on tribal land. GOP opponents of the bill have expressed their concern to giving tribes jurisdiction over non-Indians.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978), that Tribal courts don't have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

The Senate Bill (s.1925) currently has 58 sponsors.



Senate Passes Cobell Settlement Funding - House And Presidential Approval Still Pending

The United States Senate has formally approved legislation enabling the funding of the $3.4 Billion settlement in the Cobell trust litigation, an action that has been on hold for many months as Congress wrestled with health care reform and other issues.  For payments to finally begin flowing to the Native American plaintiffs in the Cobell lawsuit, the House of Representatives must also give a corresponding approval and President Obama must sign the final bill.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar praised the Senate’s action:

“With the Senate’s approval of the Cobell settlement and the four Indian water rights settlements, this is a day that will be etched in our memories and our history books. The Cobell settlement honorably and responsibly addresses long-standing injustices and is a major step forward in President Obama’s agenda of reconciliation and empowerment for Indian nations. I am also deeply proud of the passage of the four water rights settlements that will deliver clean drinking water to Indian communities, end decades of controversy and contention among neighboring communities, and provide certainty to water users across the West. The progress we have made over the last two years in reaching critical Indian country settlements is unprecedented and I am hopeful that the House will soon act to pass these settlements as well.”

Cobell Settlement Deadline Extended Again, Now 15 June 2010

Congress failed to act prior to the Memorial Day recess to approve the $3.4 billion settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit, so the deadline has again been extended to June 15, 2010. This is the fourth extension of the deadline for Congress to approve the settlement. Although the House of Representatives voted to approve the deal prior to the deadline, the Senate did not.

Dennis Gingold, the lead lawyer for the Native American plaintiffs, previously said that if Congress did not meet the May 28 deadline that had previously been set, the case would proceed toward trial. However, the plaintiffs agreed to another extension in light of the perception that Congress is close to approving the deal.

The Senate returns to business on June 7, but a list of other items -- such as confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee – may be acted on first. Also, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs John Barrasso (R-Wy) has expressed concern about aspects of the deal such as attorney fees and incentive awards for the lead plaintiffs, and may seek to have the deal modified in the Senate legislation.

Waiting Game: Tribal Law And Order Act In Senate Limbo


While crime continues to be a blight on Native lands, The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 (S.797) is currently awaiting action in the United States Senate. This bill was considered in committee, which has recommended it be considered by the Senate as a whole. Although it has been placed on a calendar of business, the order in which legislation is considered and voted on is determined by the majority party leadership, which is currently led by Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada. In the midst of intensive debate regarding health care reform, the chances for the Act to become law are unclear.

The Act would amend the Indian Law Enforcement Reform Act to make a variety of changes to increase Tribes' law enforcement powers, and increase federal powers and responsibilities regarding crimes on Native land. The Act’s provisions include:

(1) Allowing federal officials, with the consent of the Tribe, to investigate offenses against Tribal criminal laws;

(2) Providing technical assistance and training to Tribal law enforcement officials regarding use of the National Criminal Information Center database;

(3) Requiring federal and local officials, when they decline to investigate crimes on Native land, to report to Native officials and requiring such officials, when they decline to prosecute, to turn over evidence to Native officials;

(4) Establishing in the criminal division of the Department of Justice an Office of Indian Country Crime to develop, enforce, and administer federal criminal laws in Tribal territories;

(5) Authorizing, at the request of a Tribe, concurrent federal-Tribal jurisdiction;

(6) Authorizing grants to state, Tribal, and local governments that enter into cooperative agreements, including agreements relating to mutual aid, hot pursuit of suspects, and cross-deputization;

(7) Requiring the Attorney General to allow Tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement agencies to directly access and enter information into federal criminal information databases (under current law, such access is limited); and

(8) Increasing the criminal sentences Tribal courts may impose.

The bill is supported by numerous agencies including the National Congress of American Indians, National American Indian Court Judges Association, National Indian Gaming Association, and Amnesty International. No organizations have registered a formal objection to the legislation.

US Senate Proposes Resolution Apologizing To Native Americans

Casualties of Wounded Knee (

Tucked within the voluminous pages of a military spending bill, the Senate has approved a resolution apologizing to Native Americans for years of “ill-conceived policies” and acts of violence by United States citizens. Lawmakers have called the resolution “a symbolic gesture meant to promote a renewed commitment to Tribal communities”. It was introduced by Senators Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, and Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. The Senate approved a similar resolution in 2008, but the House of Representatives took no action to endorse it or enact it into law.

Senator Brownback’s website offers his views on the resolution:

“I am pleased that my colleagues have decided to move forward with a formal apology from the federal government to Native Americans. This is a resolution of apology and reconciliation, and is a step toward healing divisive wounds. With this resolution we have the potential to start a new era of positive relations between tribal governments and the federal government. For too much of our history, federal-tribal relations have been marked by broken treaties, mistreatment and dishonorable dealings. With this resolution, we can acknowledge past failures, express sincere regrets and establish a brighter future for all Americans.”

However, the website goes on to state:

The Native American Apology Resolution will not authorize or serve as a settlement of any claim against the United States. The resolution does not denigrate the bravery and self-sacrifice of Americans who have honorably served the nation in the military throughout our history. Rather, this resolution is intended to be the beginning of a much-needed reconciliation.