Feb 23, 2014 11:39 PM by Rebecca Taylor
TUCSON - The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is taking a bold stand against domestic violence. A new law allows tribal police and courts to prosecute crimes committed by non-natives on Indian land.
Many non-Indians live and work on the reservation, date and marry natives. If the relationship turns violent on Indian soil the tribe can now arrest, convict, and sentence them to prison.
Council member Raymond Buelna grew up on the reservation, "and a lot of times I would see my friends parents be victimized by non-native men."
Before the Violence Against Women Act he says Indian women who were beaten, had nowhere to turn. Tribal police had no authority to intervene because the perpetrator was non-Indian.
Buelna says kicking them off the reservation, only worked for so long. "That was only a minor fix because then he would be back through his manipulation or whatever through ways of victimizing that he did and it kept recurring with no justice for the victims," said Buelna.
That's the fight tribal leaders took to congress, and won.
Fred Urbina is Chief Prosecutor of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. While touring the tribe's state of the art courtroom, he says, "essentially one of the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act is that the proceedings be recorded."
For most tribes the law take effect next March. But Pascua Yaqui is one of three pilot tribes allowed to prosecute non-Indian offenders now.
Melissa Tatum is director of the Indigenous peoples law and policy program at the University of Arizona. "The requirements are that the defendant must be a non-Indian the victim must be an Indian, the crime must take place on the reservation and it must be one of the three categories of dating violence domestic violence or violating a protection order," she says.
The law not only protects women and children but also gay and lesbian couples. Officials say anyone dating a tribal member on the reservation and commits violence can face time behind bars.
Members of the tribe are calling this a first step in protecting their people.