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Violence Against Women Act reauthorization would expand jurisdiction of tribal courts

A table raising awareness of the Muscogee Creek Nation Family Violence Prevention Program in Okmulgee, Okla.
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A table raising awareness of the Muscogee Creek Nation Family Violence Prevention Program in Okmulgee, Okla.

A bipartisan agreement to reauthorize a bill to protect women from domestic violence will help tribal authorities streamline the process for prosecuting domestic violence crimes in Indian Country.

The last time the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA was re-authorized was in 2013, under President Obama.

The current reauthorization extends the ability of tribal nations to hold non-Native offenders accountable for crimes that occur on the reservation including sex trafficking, sexual abuse and stalking.

Existing law only allows tribal courts to prosecute crimes associated with the violation of protective orders.

Shawn Partridge of Muscogee Nation's Family Violence Prevention Program says this is a big step forward for women in Indian Country in Oklahoma.

"Our ability to hold non-Natives accountable for crimes committed on our reservation is just so important to us," said Partridge.

It comes at a critical time as the U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the tribal nation's reservation as being not disestablished.

"Safety for our people is not a partisan issue," said Partridge. 

The bill will also provide funding for incarceration costs incurred by tribal nations, including when tribal nations house non-Native offenders who have additional medical needs. Tribes like Muscogee Nation can get reimbursed for incurring those costs. It will also allow tribes to use the Bureau of Prisons to house individuals that are sentenced to a year or more.

The Violence Against Women Act was first authorized in 1994 but was allowed to expire in 2018.

If signed, the bill will be authorized through 2026.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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