June 10, 2019 Feature

Tribal Judicial Sovereignty: A Tireless and Tenacious Effort to Address Domestic Violence

Kelly Gaines-Stoner


As of 2018, 573 Native American tribes were legally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of the United States. Of the 573 tribes, 231 tribes are located in Alaska.1 The health and wellbeing of all Native families is in peril as Native women and their children are exposed to domestic violence and other multiple forms of violence in Indian country at rates highest among all U.S. races.2 At the core of a domestic violence case is the perpetrator’s manipulation tactics to maintain power and control over the victim.3 All domestic violence cases are complex as a result of the dynamics of power and control, the impact of the violence on the victim and children, and the complex service needs of victims and their children. All domestic violence cases are extremely dangerous. However, Native victims and their children face additional barriers to justice grounded in a complex tribal, federal, and state jurisdictional scheme relevant to issuing and enforcing tribal protection orders; the inability of many tribes to access the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to enter tribal protection orders; and a failure on the part of many states to recognize and enforce the tribal protection orders. The NCIC is a very important tool law enforcement and judicial systems utilize to keep victims safe.

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