Cantwell, Murray Help Pass Bill to Fight Crime, Violence on Indian Reservations

Bill addresses underfunded, understaffed tribal law

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) said legislation they helped pass through the Senate last night would increase collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement and tribal law enforcement to help curb crime on tribal land. The 2009 Tribal Law and Order Act, co-sponsored by Cantwell and Murray, reauthorizes tribal law and justice programs to fight gangs, drug smuggling and violence. The legislation addresses a crisis of violence on American Indian reservations. Nationwide, violent crime rates on Indian reservations are more than 2.5 times the national average; on some reservations, the violent crime rate is more than 20 times the national average. The bill would establish accountability measures for the federal government’s legal and treaty obligation to investigate and prosecute reservation crime, and enhance tribal government authority to prevent violence locally. 
“For far too long, Indian Country has lacked the tools it needs to fight crime and violence. The rate of violence is now more than 2.5 times the national average,” Senator Cantwell said. “All Americans deserve the protection of their basic rights, a sense of justice and freedom from fear. This legislation helps tribes improve security and justice on our nation’s Indian reservations.”
“Tribes in Washington state and across the country deserve to have the resources they need to fight crime and keep their families safe,” said Senator Patty Murray. “I was proud to support this bill that will help law enforcement agencies work together to help tribes reduce violence, fight gangs, and combat drug smuggling.”
Rates of violent crime, domestic abuse and sexual assault on Indian reservations are significantly higher than national averages. Victims of crime suffer significant delays, waiting hours and even days for a response to a distress call. An April 2007 Amnesty International report found approximately one in three Native women will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. A February 2008 Centers for Disease Control report found that two in five Native women will suffer partner violence in their lifetime, compared with one in four women overall. The legislation addresses two primary causes of reservation violence: A divided system of justice that limits local tribal government ability to combat reservation crime; and a historical lack of funding for tribal justice systems. 
In eastern Washington, the Confederated Tribes of Colville at times has only two officers on duty to cover the tribe’s nearly 2,300 square mile reservation. In March of 2008, the FBI published a situation report, Washington Gangs, that revealed gang hot spots around the state. The report listed the Colville reservation as one of the top four areas of concern in this report. In Northwest Indian Country, tribal law enforcement reports a total of 89 documented gangs active on their reservations. Fifty percent of tribal law enforcement agencies reported a worsening gang situation on their reservations in the last three years.
Several people from Washington state have testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about crime in Indian Country: Chief Matt Haney from Colville and Martina Whelshula, Director of the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations (November 19, 2009); Brian Nissan, Colville Tribal Council member (July 30, 2009); Theresa Pouley, Judge, Tulalip Tribal Court (July 24, 2008); and the Honorable Herman Dillon, Sr., Chairman of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians (June 21, 2007). Senator Cantwell voted with her colleagues on the Indian Affairs Committee to unanimously approve the bill on September 30, 2009.