Honoring Sovereignty: Aiding Tribal Efforts to Protect Native American Women from Domestic Violence

51 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2013

See all articles by Rebecca A. Hart

Rebecca A. Hart

Provide, Inc.

M. Alexander Pearl

Texas Tech University School of Law

Date Written: 2008


Each year more than 4 million women are the victims of domestic violence at the hands of their partners -- this is an epidemic from which Native American women are not immune. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of institutions that help women in abusive relationships find support within their communities. However, many governmental and non-profit resources aimed at supporting victims of domestic violence are geared towards white women. As a result, the dilemmas faced by battered women of other ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are often unexamined and misunderstood.

Native American victims of domestic violence face a particularly bleak situation. The numerous obstacles confronting Native American women specifically those seeking restraining orders against or criminal prosecution of their abusers are frequently overlooked and unreported. This Comment highlights the complicated issues facing Native American women victimized by domestic violence, including the failure of the federal government to uphold its obligation to provide effective assistance to Native American women in abusive relationships. Additionally, we will make policy proposals for federal, state, and tribal governments and law enforcement.

Part I, examines how domestic violence negatively impacts tribal communities in ways distinct from other communities. To this end, statistics on domestic violence against Native American women are considered. Part II, presents an overview of tribal sovereignty and federal Indian law to illustrate how criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country is fractured among state, tribal, and federal law enforcement. Understanding tribal sovereignty is critical to comprehending the complicated legal framework in which Native American women find themselves when attempting to seek help from tribal, state, and federal law enforcement or judicial institutions. Part III analyzes the roles of tribal, state, and the federal governments in preventing and responding to domestic violence in an effort to diagram the jurisdictional puzzle of federal, state, and tribal authority in Indian Country. Part IV, examines congressional efforts to safeguard victims of domestic violence in Indian Country, focusing on the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. Part V presents policy recommendations which are particularly relevant as the federal government implements the directives in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.

Keywords: domestic violence, tribal sovereignty, remedies, federal Indian law, Indian law, American Indian law, Violence Against Women Act of 2005 (VAWA), Major Crimes Act (MCA), General Crimes Act (GCA), Public Law 280 (P.L. 280), tribal codes, tribal courts, peacemakers courts, Oliphant

Suggested Citation

Hart, Rebecca A. and Pearl, M. Alexander, Honoring Sovereignty: Aiding Tribal Efforts to Protect Native American Women from Domestic Violence (2008). California Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 1, 2008; Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-21. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2318632

Rebecca A. Hart

Provide, Inc. ( email )

No Address Available

M. Alexander Pearl (Contact Author)

Texas Tech University School of Law ( email )

1802 Hartford
Lubbock, TX 79409
United States
(806) 834-6865 (Phone)

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