Published October 22, 2015
LAME DEER, MONTANA – Today, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (“NIWRC”) filed anamicus brief calling on the United States Supreme Court to uphold the authority of Tribes to exercise civil jurisdiction over non-Indians who sexually assault and abuse Native women and children on tribal lands.
“NIWRC’s mission is to end violence against Native women,” stated NIWRC Board President Cherrah Giles.
“NIWRC recognizes, however, that safety is not possible when tribal governments are stripped of the jurisdiction necessary to protect their women and children.” NIWRC filed its amicus brief in the Supreme Court to preserve the inherent sovereign authority of American Indian Nations to protect their women and children living on tribal lands.
On December 7, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a case concerning whether the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ Tribal Court may exercise its inherent civil jurisdiction over tort claims filed in Tribal Court against a non-Indian corporation, Dollar General, whose employee supervisor allegedly sexually assaulted a young Choctaw intern working in the store that Dollar General leases from the Tribe on tribal lands. In asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision affirming tribal jurisdiction, Dollar General has asked for nothing less than the wholesale elimination of all Tribes’ civil jurisdiction over non-Indian conduct on tribal lands.
“Dollar General seeks to avoid accountability for the conduct of its supervisor through the use of jurisdictional gymnastics, litigious tactics that could have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the ability of Indian Tribes to protect their Native women and children,” stated NIWRC’s attorney, Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Partner at Pipestem Law Firm P.C and Counsel of Record for the NIWRC amicus brief.
“At a time when the national conversation is about protecting victims of sexual assault, our brief is particularly important,” said NIWRC Executive Director Lucy Rain Simpson. “Relief for the crimes of sexual assault are seldom available to Native women and children, so we are compelled to call on the Court to affirm their rights within their tribal courts to relief and protection.”
“One in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and six in ten will be physically assaulted,” said Simpson, adding that “even worse, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is ten times the national average.”
“Dollar General’s requested elimination of Tribes’ civil jurisdiction over non-Indians is alarming because the majority of the perpetrators of violence against our Native women and children are non-Native,” stated Wendy Schlater, NIWRC Board Member. “If the Supreme Court decides tribal courts may no longer exercise their inherent civil jurisdiction over non-Indian conduct on tribal lands, our governments will lose one of the most fundamental functions they must perform to protect their women and children.”
Dollar General suggests that, instead of in the tribal court where the assault occurred, Native survivors of sexual assault should bring their tort claims in the nearest state court. “Just like people everywhere tribal members go to the court where they live,” said NIWRC Board Member Leanne Guy. “Dollar General would force Native women to drive hours away from their homes and where the assault occurred to the nearest state court. A citizen of my nation, Navajo Nation, living in Kayenta, Arizona, would have to travel 173.1 miles (2 hours 48 minutes) to the nearest state court for Arizona’s Navajo County, located in Holbrook, Arizona, or the second nearest state court in Navajo County, located in Show Low, Arizona—220.2 miles (3 hours 36 minutes). An average person cannot pay the added expenses like gas or hotel to makes these trips. Let alone take time off from work needed to drive to a state court.”
“We are calling on all Native women, advocates, and allies to join us in Washington, D.C. on December 7,” Jacqueline Agtuca, Policy Analyst for the NIWRC, announced. “On the morning of the oral argument (December 7), we will gather on the sidewalks in front of the Supreme Court and stand in solidarity with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and all Tribes who seek to exercise their inherent sovereign authority to protect their women and children on tribal lands.”
“For far too long our voices have been silenced,” added Simpson. “We will not accept a non-Indian corporation’s attack on our Nations’ inherent authority to protect its women and children.”
Background on Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians:
The Dollar General store where the alleged sexual assault occurred is located on tribal trust land leased to Dollar General. Dollar General agreed to participate in a youth job-training program operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The current case concerns the claims brought by two parents whose child, a citizen of the Tribe, was allegedly sexually assaulted by Dollar General’s store supervisor when he was working at the store.
Following the assault on the youth, he and his parents brought an action against Dollar General in tribal court, seeking monetary compensation for pain and suffering to cover the youth’s medical and trauma recovery expenses. Dollar General argued that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Tribal Court could not exercise jurisdiction over Dollar General because Dollar General is a non-Indian.
After losing this argument in the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, Dollar General circumvented the Tribal Court by filing a collateral challenge to the Tribe’s jurisdiction in the United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi. After both the District Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Tribe and concluded that the Tribal Court could exercise jurisdiction over Dollar General, Dollar General filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court.