Policy Alert: Intertribal Letter to Congress Supporting Public Safety in Indian Country

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Today, October 11, NAFOA joins 7 other tribal organizations in signing a Legislative Proposal to help improve public safety in Indian Country. This proposal was sent to both the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) and the House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC).

The proposal aims to remove limitations that currently prevent Tribal Nations from fully contributing to public safety and ensuring the protection of all individuals within their borders. Attached and below is the inter-tribal letter sent to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Chairman Brian Schatz
Vice Chair Lisa Murkowski

Committee on Indian Affairs
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Tina Smith                         Senator Steve Daines
Senator Mike Rounds                     Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Jon Tester                          Senator John Hoeven
Senator Jerry Moran                      Senator James Lankford
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto  Senator Ben Ray Luján

RE:     Improving Public Safety in Indian Country

Dear Chairman Schatz and Vice Chair Murkowski: 

On behalf of the tribal organizations listed below, we write to express our support for the  Legislative Proposal to Improve Public Safety in Indian country. 

Today, Native people are vulnerable and subjected to incredibly high rates of victimization in  their own homes because federal law prohibits the governments closest to and with the most  significant interest in protecting them from doing so. History has demonstrated the perils of these  unnecessary gaps in jurisdiction that have created disparities throughout Indian Country and left  Native women and children exceptionally vulnerable to violent crime. This proposed legislation  would remove unjustifiable limitations that currently prevent Tribal Nations from fully  contributing to public safety and ensuring the protection of all individuals within their borders.  Enabling another sovereign, specifically Tribal Governments, to actively engage in policing and  public safety efforts on Tribal Lands will only increase safety for all—Indian and non-Indian  alike—who reside on or do business on tribal lands. It is a win-win proposal where the only  losers are criminals and those who support criminal activity. 

Additionally, the Legislative Proposal protects Congress’ unique relationship with Tribal Nations  and its rightful position as a guardian over Indian affairs. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in  Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta threatens the balance of powers between the federal courts and 

Congress. The Constitution specifically assigns Congress the constitutional duty of legislating  over the United States’ relations with Indian Tribes, and historically, before Castro-Huerta, the  Court always deferred to Congress in determining which sovereign or sovereigns may exercise  criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian Country. As drafted, the Legislative  Proposal affirms Congress’ constitutional role over Indian affairs. And in doing so, takes specific  action to ensure that all individuals will be protected throughout Indian Country, regardless of  whether they are Indian or non-Indian. 

The undersigned organizations agree that all tribal nations have the inherent right to protect their  citizens and anyone who spends time in their communities. Today, Native women and children  face the highest rates of violent crimes in the United States. When enacted into law, this  Legislative Proposal will directly address and ameliorate the incredibly high rates of violence our  people face. The Legislative Proposal achieves this goal in three ways: 

1) Reaffirming Tribal Nations’ criminal jurisdiction to protect everyone on Tribal Lands and  punish any and all wrongdoers who commit crimes on Tribal Lands; 

2) Eliminating arbitrary and unsubstantiated sentencing limitations under federal law that  prevent tribal nations from punishing criminals with sentences that are fully commiserate  with the seriousness of the crimes they commit; and 
3) Adopting Justice Gorsuch’s dissent language in
Castro-Huerta, the Legislative Proposal  restores Congress’s authority over Indian affairs and further ensures that the Castro Huerta Court’s manufacturing of previously nonexistent state authority in Indian country  does not create confusion or reduce accountability of the federal and tribal governments  primarily responsible for Indian country public safety. This measure will strengthen  public safety by requiring a consensual and constitutionally codified collaboration  between tribal governments and states seeking to exercise jurisdiction on Indian lands.  

These measured steps are crucial to addressing the current public safety crisis in Indian country.  However, time is of the essence as the November elections approach. Victims deserve justice,  and the window to accomplish a critical bi-partisan victory for public safety in Indian Country  will close rapidly, leaving victims without a clear path towards justice. 

We urge you to act immediately. 

Sincerely, 

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