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Cause or Ineffective? (#5 in the TLOA & SAVE series)

Though the SAVE Native Women Act is still under review and the TLOA has been in effect for less than two full years, their effectiveness in countering the violence on tribal lands has already come into question.  According to Professor Carrie Garrow, who teaches law at Syracuse University and is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, little has changed with the implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act.  Tribal courts have yet to enforce the enhanced sentences.  However, this is due largely to the short amount of time that has elapsed and the need for more resources.  Despite this disappointing news, others focus on the intangible consequences of these two pieces of legislation.

During a phone interview, former Senator Byron L. Dorgan, who first presented the Tribal Law and Order Act to Congress, called this law the first and pretty decent step in countering the violence against American Indians.  He said, “We noticed a substantial amount of violent crime involving American Indians and a higher percentage of declinations (declining to prosecute) by U.S. Attorneys.  50 percent of murder cases and 70 percent-75 percent of sexual abuse and rape cases in Indian Country are not prosecuted.”  The Senator hopes the TLOA will put pressure on the judicial system to lower the rate of declination while also encouraging Congress to acknowledge the problems faced by this section of the U.S. population.

Certainly the Act has gotten off to a good start.  After all, the basic premises laid out in the SAVE Native Women Act were first suggested as a pilot project of the TLOA.  Professor Garrow does agree that the TLOA has helped by inspiring further steps such as SAVE, though she believes change in Indian Country has been percolating for quite some time.  And even more change is needed within tribal nations as well as the Federal government.

Mr. Powell Morris, who was an officer for the Seminole Police Department for twelve years, noted a high rate of alcohol and substance abuse that contributed to the violent crime within his jurisdiction.  He sees the key to lessening violent crime is to confront these addictions.  “To minimize general crime and violent crimes (sexual crimes) I believe in being preventative rather than reactive.  You need strong tribal departments (Recreation, Boys and Girls Club, Family Services, Senior Services, Police Department)  that work directly with the community.”  Professor Garrow could not agree more though her approach is inherent to indigenous cultural traditions.  “Each individual nation needs to strengthen its cultural ties within the community.  Due to colonization, the status of women has been lost which contributes to the violence of women by their own people.  Youth need to be taught not to engage in violence.”

Should the SAVE Native Women Act be passed into law, it could potentially further the goals of politicians, professionals, and law enforcement alike.  As discussed earlier in this series, SAVE would offer funding for the creation of community programs and additional legislation.  Perhaps its still too soon to tell how far these acts will reach, but the interest they have generated cannot be denied.

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