New report offers recommendations for improving public safety on Indian reservations

Nov 19, 2013

A report released by the Indian Law and Order Commission says law enforcement responsibilities on Indian reservations should be placed with tribes, rather than with federal and state governments, as they are now. The report, titled “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer,” looked at public safety issues in Native American communities nationwide and made recommendations to close the public safety gap by 2024. Public safety in tribal communities often lags behind non-Native communities. 

Affie Ellis, who is from Wyoming and sits on the Commission, says that juvenile justice is especially troublesome. In non-Native communities juvenile offenders are usually prosecuted locally, but on reservation they often end up in the federal justice system. 

“We think that more control should be back with tribes so that they can make better decision that will hopefully rehabilitate their children so that they’re able to be productive members of their reservation and their communities,” Ellis says. 

The Wind River Indian Reservation has no juvenile court.

She adds that another recommendation is to consolidate services provided by various agencies and to change the funding structure of those services.  

“We think tribes should receive more base level funding and that the federal government should move away from grant based funding,” Ellis says. “Repeatedly we’ve heard from tribes with fewer financial resources that the grant based funding model currently used tends to favor tribes that are able to hire experienced grant writers.”  

The federal Tribal Law and Order Act and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act both expand tribal jurisdiction, but Ellis says it should be up to tribes whether to take on that responsibility. She says tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation have not yet decided whether they will take on the judicial duties afforded by those laws.