Elizabeth Warren Unveils Detailed Plan For Empowering Tribal Nations

The Democratic presidential candidate would revoke "ill-advised" pipeline permits and significantly expand tribal criminal jurisdiction.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything. Her latest is a sweeping proposal that would empower tribal nations on virtually all policy fronts.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything. Her latest is a sweeping proposal that would empower tribal nations on virtually all policy fronts.

WASHINGTON ― Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Friday unveiled a comprehensive list of policy ideas for empowering tribal nations and indigenous peoples, including a bold plan to expand tribal criminal jurisdiction to apply to all people committing any crimes on tribal land.

In a Medium post published Friday morning, the Massachusetts senator laid out detailed proposals for addressing disparities that indigenous communities face in virtually all aspects of life compared to the overall U.S. population ― in economic development, housing, health care, education, criminal justice and voting rights.

Warren says she would revoke the “ill-advised and improperly granted permits” for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and would reject permits for new projects where tribal sovereignty is not honored. She calls for passage of a new Sacred Lands Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would dramatically improve the ability of tribes to block the imposition of development and land-use decisions with respect to tribal lands and sacred sites.

Warren also revealed she’s been working with Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of two Native women in Congress, on a far-reaching spending bill aimed at “directly and immediately” addressing critical unmet needs in Indian Country, as identified in a December 2018 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Before they introduce the final bill, they are seeking public input from tribal governments, citizens and other stakeholders.

“Native American communities have endured a long history of oppression and broken promises ― from blankets laced in disease to times when my grandparents and others in their communities were taken away from their families and put into boarding schools ― the federal government has failed to live up to its responsibility to Native Nations to provide support for basic necessities in exchange for land and mass extermination of Native people,” Haaland said in a statement. “This legislative proposal is the vehicle to further the conversation about what Indian Country needs for these promises to be adequately fulfilled, and to empower tribal governments to serve their people.”

You can read their legislative proposal here (the story continues after):

But perhaps most notably, Warren is the first presidential candidate to call for a “full Oliphant fix,” which would expand tribal criminal jurisdiction over all people committing any crimes on tribal land.

Currently, tribes only have limited criminal jurisdiction over non-Native people who abuse Native women on tribal land, which hampers tribes’ ability to punish abusers. Meanwhile, more than 84% of indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime, and the vast majority report being victimized by a non-Native person. The Violence Against Women Act allows tribes to prosecute these offenders in only specific cases.

“Congress is currently attempting to expand the domestic violence exception to Oliphant as part of the latest reauthorization of VAWA. I wholeheartedly support that effort,” Warren said, referring to the Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, which prevents tribal governments from prosecuting non-Indians. “But I believe that respecting Tribal sovereignty and improving public safety in Indian Country demands that we must go much further.”

Native women are also mysteriously going missing and being murdered, in what has become a largely invisible crisis. As president, Warren said she would establish a nationwide Missing Indigenous Woman Alert System modeled after the Amber Alert System and, separately, create a Justice Department task force to investigate the epidemic of sexual assaults and murders committed against Native women. She also vowed to appoint U.S. attorneys who would aggressively investigate serious crimes, including cold cases, committed on tribal lands.

People also need to take a hard look at why this continues to happen with relatively little response, Warren added.

“We must fully grapple with how our nation allowed this epidemic to grow,” she said, “and ensure that we take every step we can to end it.”

Warren’s new plan comes ahead of her appearance at next week’s Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum, where a number of Democratic presidential candidates will discuss their policies affecting Native communities.

This story has been updated with Haaland’s comments.

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