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June 14, 2024

ABA CJS Crime Victim Attorney Award

Jerry Gardner

I am deeply honored to receive this Crime Victim Attorney award - named after the late Frank Carrington who has been referred to as the “father of the crime victims’ rights movement in America.” It is a great honor to be included in the company of the 15 previous recipients - distinguished leaders and organizations who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the voices of crime victims and survivors are heard and respected within our criminal justice system.

I would like to thank the ABA Criminal Justice Section for this incredible honor - though I would like to accept this award on behalf of the board and staff of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) – a Native American non-profit organization that I have had the privilege of leading since its establishment in 1996. TLPI has had a primary focus on providing training, technical assistance, and publications designed to address the unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native crime victims and survivors including:

  1. Nine national Victims of Crime in Indian Country Conferences – which brought together nearly 1500 participants who shared their knowledge, experiences, and ideas for developing and sustaining victim services and programs.
  2. Providing extensive training, technical assistance, and publications (all freely downloadable through TLPI).
  3. Working with Tribes considering implementing tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians under 2013 and 2022 reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013 and VAWA 2022) – see
  4. Developing and promoting of ABA Native American policy including support for VAWA 2013, VAWA 2022, and efforts to address the interrelated issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).

The ABA – with support of this section – has become a leader in advancing the rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives. From 1980-2000, only 4 Native-specific ABA resolutions were adopted. Since 2001, however, there have been an additional 32 Native-specific ABA resolutions adopted - many directly addressing the needs of crime victims and survivors.

I would like to focus on one of these needs. It is hard to overstate the problems that were created by Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, a 1978 Supreme Court decision that stripped Indian nations of the ability to exercise their inherent criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who come onto tribal lands and commit crimes. Oliphant left American Indian and Alaska Native women and children at a higher risk of abuse, sexual assault, and murder higher than any other group with statistics demonstrating that non- Indians commit a majority of these violent crimes. It is important to note that the Oliphant decision has also played a major role in the current epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls (MMIW). Ultimately, the phrase “addressing the Oliphant in the room” was used to describe the unwillingness of Congress to even discuss the seemingly intractable issue of overturning the Oliphant decision. But Native advocates, especially American Indian and Alaska Native women persisted. It was especially important that many Native women were willing to publicly share their very personal and very painful stories of victimization and survival in the fight for the restoration of tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Many of these stories are celebrated in the play Sliver of a Full Moon which has been provided twice by the Civil Rights and Social Justice section (November 2020/2022). Ultimately, the 2013 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) included provisions which created a framework for tribal prosecutions of non-Indians for the first time since the 1978 Oliphant decision. Unfortunately, it only provided very limited jurisdiction. In the words of survivor Lisa Brunner, “The partial restoration of tribal jurisdiction in VAWA 2013 is just a sliver of the full moon we need to ensure all of our women are safe.”

Thankfully, however, VAWA 2022 significantly expanded it by including additional categories of criminal conduct. I am very pleased to recognize that the ABA has fully supported these efforts every step of the way. In closing, I would like to thank the ABA leaders – especially current ABA President Mary Smith – who have stood with us in our ongoing struggles to address the needs of Indian country crime victims and survivors.

Jerry Gardner

Executive Director, Tribal Law and Policy Institute

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