Federal restraining orders on the Rez?

It seems to me that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was used as some kind of political football in Washington, DC.


YAY to all Senate lawmakers for approving S. 1925 which seeks to allow our local tribal courts to have jurisdiction over non-Indians who assault or otherwise harm their companions while living on an Indian Reservation.


BOO to all elected House lawmakers who approved H.R. 4970 which eliminated the provisions which would strengthen the ability of our local tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who assault their domestic partners in Indian Country.


Anyway, so now there is a House version and a Senate version of the VAWA. I understand the next step is for everyone to come together and figure out what the final version is going to be. This might be a long process since they obviously cannot agree on what they want.


In the meantime, some of our people, women especially, are still not safe in their own homes on their own land. That is, if you are an enrolled member of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe living on your own reservation, you may find it very difficult to seek legal protection if you are married to or in a domestic relationship with a non-Indian who abuses you. The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court does not have criminal jurisdiction against your non-Indian husband or wife. So, if he or she decides to physically assault you there is really nothing the tribal police or tribal court system can do.


The feds will not assume jurisdiction unless the case is an aggravated assault or a murder. Do we have to wait until someone is killed in a domestic violence assault before we can get protection against non-Indians living on our rez? Is that a question I should even ask?


Victims could call the County Sheriff but I doubt they would respond to a domestic violence call in Rosebud, even if the perpetrator is a non-Indian. Are you a victim of domestic abuse on the Rosebud Reservation at the hands of your non-Indian spouse or partner? Have you ever called the Todd County Sheriff for help? Email me to let me know if you did and how it turned out for you. I know there are couples living on my reservation right now where one is a tribal member and the other is a non-Indian. Criminal domestic violence incidents involving these couples will often fall through the cracks in law enforcement.


How do you feel about going to the federal courthouse in Pierre to file for a restraining order against your abusive non-Indian spouse or companion? Many of our people living on the reservations in South Dakota are in survival mode most of the time. Families struggle on a daily basis just to provide shelter and enough food.


Still, if you have no car or no job and you want to seek a protection order against your non-Indian spouse you may have to go to the feds in order to get one if Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD) gets her way. Here is an excerpt of what Rep. Noem had to say on May 16, 2012 regarding the vote on the Republican version of VAWA:


“House Republicans are not going to allow the Violence Against Women Act to get sidelined because of politics, it’s simply too important. One area of particular concern to people back home in South Dakota is provisions for Native Americans and Native American women. Native American women suffer from higher levels of abuse than non-Indian women but all too often they don’t get to see their perpetrators brought to justice. It’s simply unacceptable. This Violence Against Women Act improves upon many of the programs that are designed specifically to aid Native American Women. And it also includes new provisions to improve Congress’ response to potential problems they may run into. Furthermore, to better ensure that Native American women have improved recourse against abusive individuals, I worked with the Judiciary committee and the staff to include language in this bill to empower Native American women to either petition individually the federal courts or through their tribal courts for a federal restraining order. Insuring that these women have the ability to obtain a protection order is a vital step towards stopping the cycle of abuse that many of them suffer through. It impacts them disproportionally in Indian Country than it does in other areas of this nation. Those who have suffered from violence and abuse have gone through enough. Let’s not cause more harm by putting politics before victims and let’s support and reauthorize the improved Violence Against Women Act today.”



Have you ever heard of a “federal restraining order?” If we are going to have to start filing petitions for restraining orders in federal court it means we will have to travel long distances to do so. The nearest federal courthouse to residents of the Rosebud Reservation is in Pierre, SD; a 230 mile round trip from my home.

It’s hard for many to get to the tribal courthouse. Where will we get gas money to drive to Pierre to file for a “federal restraining order?”


Furthermore, I would like to see the number of federal law enforcement officers present on my reservation to decrease. Is it not enough that the major crimes are prosecuted at the federal level? Will we soon see more federal agents on Indian land enforcing restraining orders over non-Indians?


Rep. Kristi Noem is out of touch with how life really is on the Indian Reservations in the state she represents, in my opinion. She has absolutely no idea of what it’s like to be a battered Indian woman who is afraid for her life. How can she speak for us when she doesn’t have a clue about our reality?


On this Memorial Day, I remember all the Indian women who lost their lives on their own land at the lands of a violent non-Indian man.

Published by Vi Waln


One thought on “Federal restraining orders on the Rez?

  1. Considering that the reservation is not federal land, I think that ALL federal law enforcement agents need to leave. As for the women who are abused, there are ways of making the abuser less likely to do so in the future. But that would take the people coming together with the mindset that those types of behaviors will not be tolerated. I believe that one could file petitions in federal court via the mail also.

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