Five years ago, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). In response to the high rates of domestic violence being perpetrated against American Indian and Alaska Native women by non-Indian men, and harrowing stories from victims whose abusers seemed out of justice’s reach, the law contained a new provision. VAWA 2013 recognized and affirmed the inherent sovereign authority of Indian tribal governments to exercise criminal jurisdiction over certain non-Indians who violate qualifying protection orders or commit domestic or dating violence against Indian victims on tribal lands. This provision in VAWA 2013 created a framework for tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians again—something that had not happened in 35 years, since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, which removed tribal authority to prosecute non-Indians.
This report summarizes how VAWA 2013’s landmark provision has been implemented and analyzes its impacts in the 5 years since it was enacted. This examination of the tribes’ early exercise of SDVCJ suggests that VAWA 2013 has been a success. As Congress intended, the law has equipped tribes with the much-needed authority to combat the high rates of domestic violence against Native women, while at the same time protecting non-Indians’ rights in impartial, tribal forums.