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Witness to history
By Betty Anhorn, Center for Academic & Personal Counseling

29 September 2010

BISMARCK (UTN) - Dedication and hard work paid off big time this summer for United Tribes Criminal Justice student Renee Walking Eagle-Thin Elk. Renee spent a good share of the summer in Washington, DC on an internship through American University.

Renee Walking Eagle-Thin Elk attended the Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) program this summer and saw the President sign the Tribal Law & Order Act.

      The highlight of the summer was an unscheduled visit to the White House.

      Renee was one of four interns selected, out of 97 in the program, to attend a formal signing ceremony by President Obama of the Tribal Law and Order Act.

      She was so excited! It was a huge event when it took place on July 29.

      United Tribes is so proud that Renee finished her internship with a world class event that carried such importance for Indian Country.

      Congratulations Renee for representing us so well!


Evidence Sharing & Declinations: Federal officials have declined to prosecute more than 50 percent of violent crimes in Indian country, and a higher rate of sexual assaults. The law requires DOJ to maintain data on criminal declinations and share evidence with tribal justice officials when a case is declined.

North Dakota U. S. Senator Byron Dorgan was with President Obama when he signed the Tribal Law and Order Act. Enacting the bill was one of Dorgan’s top priorities as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Also there was Three Affiliated Tribal Chairman Marcus Levings, at right in headdress, and Oglala Tribal President Theresa Two Bulls, behind the President wearing glasses.

Tribal Court Sentencing: Federal law limits tribal court authority to sentence offenders to no more than one year in prison, which limits their ability to provide justice to the victims and the tribal community. The law establishes an option for tribes to increase sentencing authority for up to three years where a tribe provides added protections to defendants.

Deputizing: The complex jurisdictional arrangement in Indian Country prevents tribal police from arresting offenders, even when a crime is committed in plain view.  The law enhances the Special Law Enforcement Commission program, to deputize tribal police officers to enforce federal laws on Indian lands against all offenders. 

Access to Criminal History Records: Many tribal police have no access to criminal history records.  As a result, when pulling over a suspect, the officer has no background on the person who is detained.  The law provides tribal police greater access to criminal history databases such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Domestic and Sexual Violence: The law requires tribal and federal officers serving Indian country to receive specialized training to interview victims of sexual assault and collect crime scene evidence. It also requires IHS facilities to implement consistent sexual assault protocols, and requires federal officials to provide documents and testimony gained in the course of their federal duties to aid in prosecutions before tribal courts.

Strengthen Programs: The law reauthorizes and improves programs designed to strengthen tribal court systems, tribal police departments, and tribal corrections programs.  It also updates laws to address high rates of alcohol and substance abuse, and programs to improve opportunities for at risk youth on Indian lands.