Oakville, Wash. – The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation (Chehalis Tribe) is the 24th Federally Recognized Indian Tribe in the United States to fully implement and enact the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction under the Indian Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to have special jurisdiction over non-Native offenders. The tribal government took many steps leading up to the final approval on March 20, 2019 by the Department of Justice.
Numerous Chehalis Tribal member women served as the driving force behind the process of grant writing, staffing the Tribal Court and revising the Chehalis Tribal Code. Janet Stegall, responsible for writing the VAWA grant, stated as a Chehalis Tribal woman, “I am overwhelmed with the relief that an unforgivable injustice is going to be able to be brought to justice in the future.” Misty Secena, General Manager, hit the ground running by initiating meetings towards implementing the VAWA grant.
Jerrie Simmons, Chehalis Tribal member and the Tribal Court Director with many years’ experience as an Indian Law Lawyer, stated this is the first step in regaining the ability to prosecute non-Natives in Tribal court since the Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe case of 1978. This case went to Supreme Court with a 6-2 majority vote in favor of Oliphant setting the precedent that non-Natives could not be prosecuted for crimes on tribal territory. This law stood with no latitude for over thirty years until the 2013 VAWA pilot project when the Umatilla (Org.), Pascua Yaqui (Ari.), and Tulalip Tribes (Wash.) became the first three tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction on domestic and dating violence.
The tribes that implement this program must meet all of the civil right protections that the US constitution guarantees to a criminal defendant. Therefore, part of the pre-approval process involved revising the Chehalis Tribal Domestic Violence and Criminal Codes to comply with the Federal Law.
The Chehalis Tribe, along with others across the nation, are awaiting expansion of the law to enable prosecution for crimes related to domestic violence; such as crimes against children, crimes against a public officer, etc. Implementation of the VAWA criminal jurisdiction and others will help protect the tribal reservations for current and future generations.