By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
President Obama signed into law on Thursday, July 29 the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 which will expand the authority of Tribal Courts in sentencing and aid law enforcement in Indian Country.
Prior to signing the Act, the President commented, “All of you come at this from different angles, but you’re united in support of this bill because you believe, like I do, that it is unconsciounable that crime rates in Indian Country are more than twice the national average and up to 20 times the national average on some reservations. And all of you believe, like I do, that when one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, that is an assault on our national conscience; it is an affront to our shared humanity; it is something that we cannot allow to continue.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was represented at the event by Vice Chief Larry Blythe, Painttown Rep. Terri Henry and Paxton Myers who works in the office of Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-MI).
“It was an incredible honor to be present for this historic occasion,” said Rep. Henry who has worked on this legislation for years as a woman’s advocate. She said this bill will show that “crime is crime and when you perpetrate against people, there are consequences for it. We also want to see more support of tribal efforts to prosecute cases in Indian Country.”
Rep. Henry praised the signing of the legislation and said she personally thanked President Obama during the event.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), who introduced the bill into the House, had this to say about Thursday’s signing, “I am so proud to see my legislation, the Tribal Law and Order Act, signed into law because the need is so great in Indian Country. It is meaningful because of the potential it holds for improving law enforcement for South Dakota families. Native American families deserve to feel the same safety and security in their communities that some of the rest of us take for granted.”
The bill was introduced as H.R. 1924 and was passed by the House on July 22 as part of H.R. 725 Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act of 2010. The Senate passed S. 797 in June.
The Act grants Tribal Courts the ability to impose a sentence of three years imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000 for a single count. Those are raised from the previous maximums of one year imprisonment and a $5,000 fine as outlined in the Indian Civil Rights Act.
Rep. Kildee is the Democratic House Native American Caucus. “I am proud to have helped pass this long overdue legislation,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “The federal government is obligated through various treaties with Indian tribes to provide public safety, yet it has failed in this duty for far too long.”
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) introduced the legislation in the Senate. “This new law will save lives in Indian Country,” he said Thursday. “It will also dramatically improve the quality of life for millions of Native Americans who have lived far too long with unacceptable levels of violent crime in their communities. Jurisdictional confusion, lack of adequate law enforcement training, and a host of other structural roadblocks to effective law enforcement have created a crisis in law enforcement on many reservations where violent crime rates far exceed the national average.”
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) praised Thursday’s signing, “The conditions on our reservations in South Dakota and other places around the country are not acceptable. I believe this Act is another step in the right direction toward empowering tribes and improving the quality of life on the reservations.”
Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) commented, “Today, by enacting the Tribal Law and Order Act, President Obama and the United States government reaffirmed its federal trust responsibility to work with tribal nations to strengthen our governments, our people and our communities.”
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, “By providing greater law enforcement resources for Indian Country, this measure will help combat violence and lawlessness and ensure that more crimes are prosecuted on reservations. This legislation reflects the continuing commitment of President Obama to work closely with tribal leaders to improve safety in Indian communities and to tackle the years of neglect of law enforcement needs.”
For photos from this event, you can visit the NCAI flickr page at: