Stephanie H Sandlin

Tribal Law And Order Act Of 2009 - May 14, 2009

Stephanie H Sandlin
May 14, 2009— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Madam Speaker, I rise today to discuss H.R. 1924, the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009. I was proud to reintroduce this legislation designed to address the serious deficiencies and systemic flaws within the Federal agencies charged with providing law enforcement and justice programs in Indian country.

As the at-large Member of Congress for South Dakota, I am proud to represent nine sovereign Native nations. The Federal Government has a unique relationship with the 562 federally recognized tribes. This government-to-government relationship is established in the U.S. Constitution, recognized through hundreds of treaties, and reaffirmed through executive orders, judicial decisions and congressional action.

Law enforcement is one of the Federal Government's responsibilities to federally recognized tribes. Yet on many counts, we are failing to meet that obligation. In April, Oglala Sioux Tribe president, Theresa Two Bulls, testified at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies' oversight hearing on law enforcement issues in Indian country. President Two Bulls discussed the law enforcement crisis on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. She explained how large, land-based reservations struggle to maintain the level of officers needed to protect tribal members.

President Two Bulls illustrated the seriousness of the public safety crisis by telling the committee of one case. A young woman living on the reservation received a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend who battered her. One night she was home alone and woke up as he attempted the break into her home with a crowbar. She immediately called the police, but due to the lack of land lines for telephones and the spotty cell phone coverage, the call was cut off three times before she reported her situation to the dispatcher. However, the nearest officer was 40 miles away. Even though the young police officer who took the call started driving to her home at 80 miles per hour, by the time he arrived, the woman was severely bloodied and beaten. The perpetrator was nowhere in sight.

All Americans should be outraged by this grossly inadequate law enforcement infrastructure which is clearly ill-equipped to deter, prevent or prosecute crimes and criminals. For families who take a basic sense of safety and security for granted, these stories should serve as a wake-up call.

And it is not an isolated incident. As I meet with tribal leaders throughout South Dakota and Indian country, I know that these tragic stories are not unique to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Amnesty International has reported that violence against Native women is particularly widespread. American Indian and Alaska Native women are more than 2 1/2 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general. Yet the majority of these crimes go unpunished.

While addressing the lawless conditions in Indian country will require significant changes in the way that the Federal Government works with tribes, as well as a meaningful influx of resources into reservations in most need, H.R. 1924, the Tribal Law and Order Act, is an important step to addressing the complex and broken system of law and order in Indian country. This bill would establish accountability measures for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice with regard to tribal law enforcement. This bill also seeks to increase local control to tribal law enforcement agencies and to authorize additional resources for tribes to address the safety and security needs of their communities.

Specifically, this bill would clarify the responsibilities of Federal, State, tribal and local governments with respect to crimes committed in tribal communities. It would increase coordination and communication among Federal, State, tribal and local law enforcement agencies. It would empower tribal governments with the authority, resources and information necessary to effectively provide for the public safety in tribal communities. It would reduce the prevalence of violent crime in tribal communities and combat violence against Indian and Alaska Native women. It would address and prevent drug trafficking and reduce rates of alcohol and drug addiction in Indian country and increase and standardize the collection of criminal data and sharing of criminal history information among Federal, State, and tribal officials responsible for responding to and investigating crimes in tribal communities.

Native American families, like all families, deserve a basic sense of safety and security in their communities. The Tribal Law and Order Act is an important step toward meeting the Federal Government's responsibility to Native communities. And I urge my colleagues to join me in moving this important legislation forward.

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