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March 18, 2008

“Navigating the Jurisdictional Maze: Combating Crime in Indian Country"

The Native American Law Students Association at the University of Michigan Law School invites you to American Indian Law Day 2008!

Submitted by NALSA

This year the program will focus on crime in Indian Country, specifically domestic
violence and the manufacture, sale, and use of methamphetamine. Speakers will discuss the barriers that have been created to achieving criminal justice in Indian Country, how crime is currently being combated, and what actions are currently being taken to obtain justice.


Criminal justice has always been a concern within Indian Country. But now, within recent years, the lack of criminal justice in Indian Country has received national attention.

In 2007, Amnesty International published, “Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the U.S.”, detailing the plight of Native women in Indian Country. The report states that “[m]ore than one in three Native American or Alaskan women will be raped at some point in their lives. Most do not seek justice because they know they will be met with inaction or indifference. As one support worker said, ‘Women don’t report because it doesn’t make a difference. Why report when you are just going to be revictimized?’”

Sexual violence against Native women isn’t the only criminal justice problem in Indian Country. Domestic violence also targets Native children. In addition, trafficking, manufacturing, and the use of methamphetamine run rampant within Indian lands.

Why the lack of criminal justice in Indian Country? Why are the rates of violence and drug use so much higher than anywhere else in the United States? Michigan Indian Law Professor Gavin Clarkson explains one reason for the lack of justice by noting the jurisdictional maze created by Congress and the United States Supreme Court. In his L.A. Times Op-ed, “Reservations Beyond the Law”, Professor Clarkson describes how tribes are stuck with a situation in which they can only prosecute misdemeanors committed by Indians within their reservation boundaries. The States prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against non-Indians, but when a non-Indian victimizes and Indian, only U.S. attorneys can take action. Problems arise when U.S. attorneys do not pursue these non-Indian on Indian crimes. For instance, some pedophiles became teachers within schools in Indian reservations because of little fear of prosecution for molesting Indian children. Also aware of the lack of law enforcement, methamphetamine traffickers have moved onto Indian Country.

The maze of criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country is just one reason for the lack of criminal justice. Another significant reason for the lack of justice can be attributed to under-resourcing of already under-sourced law enforcement.

This is just a glimpse into the issues that will be addressed at Indian Law Day on March 28. The program will be from 1:00pm - 4:00pm in Hutchins Hall room 138 and is free and open to the public. Three panels will take place; the first will focus on the current status of Indian Country, such as the problems of domestic violence and methamphetamine, jurisdictional confusion, and lack of law enforcement resources. The second discussion will feature the U.S. Attorney from the Western District of North Carolina and how she works to combat crime in Indian Country. And the third discussion will focus on the action that is being taken in Washington, D.C., specifically regarding a proposal for change from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Speakers Include:

● Gretchen Shappert, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina and Chairman
of the Native American Issues Subcommittee for the Department of Justice.

● Elizabeth Kronk, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Montana School of Law.

● John Harte, Policy Director for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

● Bonnie Clairmont, Victim Advocacy Specialist at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in
Minneapolis, MN.

● Lesley Kandaras, Legislative Aide for Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota