Because of a decision by the Supreme Court in 1978, people who are not Native Americans cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts if they commit a crime on tribal land. Some might say that leaves a huge loophole for crimes to be committed and go unpunished.

One woman, who is Native American, says she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, who is not Native American. This all apparently occurred on the Southern Ute reservation, so her husband was essentially free to do as he wished with no prospect of being arrested, she says.

She says the abuse began at the beginning of their short marriage when she was 24. She says he slapped, kicked or punched her at least 100 times by the time she filed for divorce about a year after they were married. Tribal authorities apparently refused to arrest him because of the law.

She says she fled, after which he showed up at their home, destroying things and smearing his blood over the walls. The following day, he turned up at her Colorado workplace with a pistol. A co-worker helped to push her out of the way and was wounded. The man was ultimately considered a first-time offender and took a plea deal on an aggravated traffic offense.

Members of congress are hoping to change the law with new legislation that would allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Native Americans. A version of the bill has passed in the Senate, while it is still on the table in the House. The changes would certainly affect the lives of Native American people and non-Native Americans alike.

Source: CBS News, “Native American women seek protections from abuse,” May 14, 2012