In 1994 a Canadian film titled “Dance Me Outside“ told the story of two young men living on their tribe’s reservation in Ontario. The film illustrated how the community was changed due to the murder of a young Indian woman, Little Margaret, by a drunken white man. In 48 seconds, the blink of an eye, viewers learn that the criminal was sentenced to nothing more than two years on a manslaughter charge. The lines are as short as the court sentence itself, yet the words have stuck with me over the years. Now, nearly two decades later, it is surprising that this fictitious scene is far closer to reality than most could imagine.
In 2004 the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on American Indians and Crime. The data for this report was collected from 1992-2002 and focused on surveys taken by the 4.1 million American Indians living on and off tribal lands within the United States. Though they comprise less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, the study found that American Indians are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime in comparison to the national average. Instances of sexual assault and the victimization of Native women is also double that of society as a whole. According to the statistics, more than 71 percent of this violence is enacted by a stranger and approximately 88 percent of assailants are white or black. Furthermore, as tribal courts are not allowed to prosecute non-Indians, and state and federal law enforcement have a habit of letting tribal cases fall to the wayside, many of these non-Native attackers go unpunished.
The alarming results listed in this report lead to further inspection by state, federal, and non-governmental organizations alike. Amnesty International attempted to tell the stories of Native female victims while officials in states with larger Indian populations conducted their own research to test the credibility of the work. Five years after the data was released, the political sphere offered its own response to this study in the form of a bill. The Tribal Law and Order Act was proposed in 2009 and became law in 2010. Instead of working to alleviate the concerns of the populace, this law along with the SAVE Native Women Act currently under review, has created quite a commotion. Though popular enough to make the Congressional cut, naysayers argue these bits of legislation are neither effective nor in line with the U.S. Constitution.