September 22, 2021 07:31

Should Indigenous Communities Have Jurisdiction Over Murders?

Experts say a clear solution to the missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP) epidemic plaguing Native communities around the country lies in sovereignty and that authorities should restore criminal jurisdiction to tribes, reports U.S. News via the Great Falls Tribune. In 2013, the Violence Against Women Act contained a provision that restored tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives who commit domestic violence, dating violence or violate protection orders in Indian Country. But the act did not restore tribal criminal jurisdiction in cases of homicide or other major crimes. Jurisdiction among tribal, state and federal law enforcement entities varies depending on the severity and location of the crime and ethnicity of the victim and perpetrator. For example, in Montana, if an Indigenous person commits a felony specified in state law off-reservation, state agencies have jurisdiction. But when someone commits a major crime on a reservation, jurisdiction gets more complicated, and Indigenous people can become involved in various justice systems.

Tribal nations are also limited in their sentencing abilities and cannot tax reservation residents to fund tribal law enforcement. As a result, the agencies often lack the funding and resources necessary for intensive investigations. Three or four officers can be responsible for patrolling the entire 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Reservation, for example. In addition, families of victims allege that policing agencies often neglect cases involving Indigenous peoples and fail to thoroughly investigate crimes against them. Experts maintain that the U.S. should restore criminal jurisdiction rights to tribal nations and provide more funding to tribal law enforcement and governments. Support for an Oliphant “fix,” which would restore tribal criminal jurisdiction over anyone who commits a crime in Indian Country, is gaining support.

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