Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

On June 22, 2016, the President signed HR 812 as PL 114-178, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act (Act). The Act reaffirms the responsibility of the United States to Indian tribes; authorizes a demonstration project for tribes to voluntarily negotiate with the Secretary of the Interior to manage their own trust assets; creates the option for the Secretary to establish an Under Secretary for Indian Affairs; and sets up a process to terminate the Office of the Special Trustee.

In other words, this is a VERY big deal.  There have been numerous lawsuits filed against the federal government for failing to appropriately manage tribal trust assets and, in the spirit of self-determination, this legislation begins to hand some of that management back over to tribes.  In a Congress bogged down by election partisan politics, Indian Country continues to chip away at issues important to us and find some success.

HR 812 was introduced by Representatives Simpson (R-ID); Cole (R-OK); and Heck (D-WA). Companion legislation was introduced by Senator Crapo (R-ID). A copy of HR 812, as presented to the President for signature, is here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114hr812enr/pdf/BILLS-114hr812enr.pdf

Read more from our General Memorandum here

Happy Tuesday!
Lael

Last week, the Bureau of Justice Assistance published the Joint Jurisdiction Courts: A Manual for Developing Tribal, Local, State & Federal Justice Collaborations.  BJA, through the Center for Evidence-based Policy of the Oregon Health and Science University and Project T.E.A.M., a BJA-funded training and technical assistance providers, has published a manual for tribal and community leaders who want to develop joint jurisdiction courts or initiatives in their own communities. 

Joint Jurisdiction Courts: A Manual for Developing Tribal, Local, State & Federal Justice Collaborations, is a guide that describes the process developed in one Minnesota community and adopted by other jurisdictions including communities in California and Alaska. The manual describes the benefits of intergovernmental collaboration, and provides suggested guidelines for developing a new joint jurisdiction justice collaborative based on identified needs, tribal and community culture, evidence-based treatment principals, articulated goals, and defined outcomes and includes best practices and lessons learned from Project T.E.A.M.’s work. The manual and supplementary materials can be found on the Project T.E.A.M. website: http://www.ohsu.edu/projectteam/manual. Also visit the Project T.E.A.M. website: www.ohsu.edu/projectteam.

This comes at a time when both Congress and Tribes are looking to fill the jurisdictional gaps on reservations.  As recently as May, 2016, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on S.2785, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act of 2016 and S.2920, the Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2016.  S.2785 would expand tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for certain child abuse and drug-related offenses committed in Indian Country, as well as crimes committed against tribal police officers exercising tribal criminal jurisdiction. S.2920 would explore the feasibility of integrating Federal law enforcement, public safety, substance abuse and mental health programs in Indian Country, provide for improved information sharing with Indian tribes, consult on tribal juvenile justice reform, reauthorize tribal court training, required the appointment of Federal public defenders for each district that includes Indian country, require a GAO report on justice for Indian juveniles, and other related requirements.  (If you are interested in learning more about these bills, contact me for the memos we provided our clients on this issue).  The Committee has scheduled a markup for these bills later this week.

However, the expansion of this jurisdiction requires tribes to “beef” up their tribal court systems.  Exercising tribal jurisdiction is vital to building strong tribal communities and manuals like this provide free assistance information to Tribes and tribal courts seeking to improve on their current tribal judicial system.   The Department of Justice offers Tribal Capacity Building grants to provide funding to strengthen the tribe’s ability to implement and enhance tribal justice systems through training and technical assistance to increase their knowledge of emerging technology, evidence-based practices, and new models of service. The 2016 grant application closed on June 2, 2016 but there will likely be additional opportunities in 2017.

Unfortunately, violence in our communities is a constant reality.  Keeping our communities safe and providing victims with the opportunity to heal is worth expending the time and resources necessary to build vibrant and effective tribal justice systems.

With Hope for Safe and Healthy Tribal Communities,
Lael