November 01, 2016

On-the-Ground VAWA Implementation: Lessons from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe

By Alfred Urbina and Melissa Tatum

On February 26, 2014, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe made history by arresting a non-Indian who committed a crime on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. The path to that historic arrest, and to the ability of the Pascua Yaqui Police Department to do what we expect police officers to do—arrest people who commit crimes in their territory—was both a long and winding 40-year trek and a quick and breathless three-week sprint. Regardless of which perspective you take, both journeys demonstrate the power of endurance, the benefits of staying fit and prepared, and the advantages of patiently educating congressional representatives.

The long endurance trek started with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 1978’s Oliphant v. Suquamish,1 while the sprint began on February 6, 2014, when the Pascua Yaqui Tribe was officially notified that it had been selected as one of three tribes to participate in a pilot project under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013).2

Congress enacted VAWA 2013 in part to address the problem of sexual and domestic violence committed by non-Indians against Native women. VAWA 2013 restores to tribes the ability to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence in Indian Country, provided tribes comply with the procedural requirements in the statute. To allow tribes time to develop the required infrastructure, and for notice about the increased jurisdiction to be disseminated, VAWA 2013 declared that its provisions would take effect two years after the date of enactment. The statute did, however, provide for a pilot project, and three tribes—Pascua Yaqui, Umatilla, and Tulalip—were selected to be part of the pilot project.

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