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He slammed the bedroom door and sat down on the squeaky bed.And then I heard the thud-thud of his cowboy boots as he laid down, squeaking again, and he went to sleep.” There were many more beatings over the years, Brunner said.Under long-standing law in Indian country, reservations are sovereign nations with their own police departments and courts in charge of prosecuting crimes on tribal land.But Indian police have lacked the legal authority to arrest non-Indian men who commit acts of domestic violence against native women on reservations, and tribal courts have lacked the authority to prosecute the men.
For their part, native women say they have long been ill-served by state and federal law. It can take hours or days for them to respond to allegations, if they respond at all, tribal leaders say.“The public safety issues in Indian country are so complicated,” said Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, one of the Justice Department officials who focus on tribal justice issues.“No one would have ever designed a system from scratch to look like the system that has come down to us through the generations.” Over the past 200 years, there have been dramatic swings in Indian-country jurisdiction and the extent of tribal powers.President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March.(Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press) Last year, Congress approved a law — promoted by the Obama administration — that for the first time will allow Indian tribes to prosecute certain crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Indians in Indian country.