1. Update
  2. Native Americans

Following the Money: Tribal Justice and Violence

Funding in the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Bill

August 21, 2017


Proposed funding for the Justice Department includes strong support for a handful of programs that focus on violence against Indian women. The House and Senate bills also include "set-asides" for victims of violent crimes and for the support of justice systems on tribal lands.

Women in Indian country are particularly vulnerable to violence. They are more than twice as likely to be murdered as other women in the country; in some places the murder rate is 10 times the national average. One in three Native women is raped in her lifetime, and nearly 40 percent have suffered domestic violence. The numbers of Native women who have gone missing are not even counted... yet.

As one advocate tells it, “We all know someone...”

In 2013, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was amended to allow its provisions to be implemented in Indian Country. Before those changes were made, tribal police had no authority to arrest and prosecute a non-Indian or a member of another tribe for violent crimes on a reservation. Certain limited authorities were extended in those amendments, still applying only to domestic violence and limited to situations in which a non-Indian had some kind of relationship to the tribe (e.g. living or working on the reservation) and committed violence toward someone with whom he had a relationship (spouse, girlfriend, date.)

Attacks by strangers or by people coming in from off the reservation were not covered. Even so, these amendments made a start. The VAWA amendments also established several programs that particularly address violence against Indian women – research, a skills clearinghouse, and support for tribal justice systems. As soon as the VAWA amendments passed, advocates turned attention to getting funding for these new programs. That task took three years – the first appropriation for these programs was approved in 2016.

For Fiscal Year 2018, bills approved by the full Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate both include some provisions that are very important to Indian country. In our letter to these committees, FCNL and seven other faith-based organizations joined with many women’s and Native organizations to support these measures:

  • Funding for responses to domestic violence:

    • $1 million for continued research on violence against Native American women,
    • $500,000 for the Sexual Assault Clearinghouse to provide training and technical assistance for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and
    • $4 million to assist tribes in implementing domestic violence criminal jurisdiction;
  • A 5 percent set-aside for tribes of the funds made available from the Crime Victims Fund, which accumulates the proceeds from fines and confiscations following criminal convictions;

  • A 7 percent set-aside of funds made available to states and local jurisdictions through grants for a range of law enforcement assistance and juvenile justice programs, to support the capacity of tribal justice systems. While the Senate bill provides a set aside of “up to 7 percent” in the “discretion of the Attorney General,” we will support the House version which creates a more reliable funding base and better respects and supports the sovereignty of the tribal governments receiving the funds.

While tribes may be able to access other funds from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women or the Office of Justice Programs, the specific programs described above are the ones that direct funds to Indian country without requiring a request to a state or local agency.

The problem of human trafficking, for example, has the attention of the Justice Department and the appropriations committees. The Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittees in both chambers strengthened several grant programs that aim to disrupt human trafficking of children and adults. Grants are generally available on a competitive basis to state and local law enforcement agencies but, although Indian women and youth on tribal lands and in urban areas are prime targets for these crimes, tribal governments and urban Indian programs are not specifically assured direct access to these grants.

The General Accountability Office (GAO) has issued two recent reports on Human Trafficking in Indian Country, noting primarily the problem of under-recognized and under-reported cases. See “Human Trafficking: Information on Cases in Indian Country or that Involved Native Americans.” Directing funding specifically to tribes to increase their capacity to stop human trafficking would be a worthwhile step toward counting the crimes as well as solving and preventing them.

Other Justice Programs. Many tribal witnesses have testified to the additional stress on already strained law enforcement capacities, due to opioid and heroin trafficking. In addition to the funds provided through Justice Department Appropriations, the House and Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations bills also provide increased funds for law enforcement special initiatives to address the drug trafficking challenge. The Interior appropriations bills also provide for an increase in funds for detention and corrections programs, and a direction that these funds should support mental health and substance abuse services for people in custody, including juveniles in tribal facilities.

The full House Appropriations Committee has approved its funding bill for Department of Justice programs H.R.3267. The House Rules Committee has included the bill in an “omnibus” package carrying eight separate bills, which is expected to come to the floor in early September. The package was released on August 16. The Senate full Committee has also approved its bill, S. 1662, and it is ready for a Senate floor vote.