Reinventing the Rules

Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects

New Law Strengthens Native American Justice System in the US

Last March, I took a road trip from Washington, DC to Arizona and along the way I stopped at Native American towns and reservations in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. I had a chance to see tribal court buildings up close and spoke to many community members about the justice system and what some of the biggest challenges were in the community. Interestingly, the Washington Post published an article over the weekend on a new law by the US Government allowing Native Americans to prosecute non-Indians in their courts. With many programs seeking to strengthen the customary justice system or link the formal and customary justice system in other countries, I thought it was really interesting to see how the US is recognizing tribal justice systems within our own borders. View the excerpts below or read the full article here: Arizona Tribe Set to Prosecute First Non-Indian Under a New Law.

[Side Note: Last year I interviewed a rule of law practitioner who used Native American alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to strengthen justice systems in South America. You can check out that interview here!]

Credit: Mamta Popat

Credit: Mamta Popat

About three weeks ago, at 2:45 a.m., the tribal police were called to the reservation home of an Indian woman who was allegedly being assaulted in front of her two children. They said her 36-year-old non-Indian husband, Eloy Figueroa Lopez, had pushed her down on the couch and was violently choking her with both hands. This time, the Yaqui police were armed with a new law that allows Indian tribes, which have their own justice system, to prosecute non-Indians. Instead of  telling him to leave the reservation, they arrested him.

Inside a sand-colored tribal courthouse set here amid the saguaro-dotted land of the Pascua Yaqui people, the law backed by the Obama administration and passed by Congress last year is facing its first critical test. The Pascua Yaqui, along with two other tribes chosen by the Justice Department for a pilot project allowing the prosecution of non-tribal men, received the go-ahead to begin enforcing the law a year ahead of the country’s other 563 tribes because tribal officials made the case they were able to protect the rights of the accused.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2014 by in General, Reports and tagged , .

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