How Violence Again Women Act impacts tribal nations in Michigan

Outlining how reauthorized VAWA has added protections for women in tribal nations.

Congress has recently taken measures to protect women in the United States, including those within tribal nations.  The most recent reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has increased tribal courts’ jurisdiction over non-Native American people who commit crimes such as domestic violence, rape, sexual assaults, violations of protection orders and stalking against American Indian women on tribal reservation land.  As we engage women and families from across Michigan in educational programs, it is important to be mindful there are new policies to be aware of with regards to the safety of American Indian women.  However you might be wondering, what changes were made to VAWA?

VAWA was first enacted by Congress in 1994 to address the severity of violence again women.  In order to better understand how VAWA has changed with regards to tribal nations, below are a few facts regarding the inclusion of American Indian women and Tribal Nations:


  • “Provides additional tools for protecting women in Indian country by creating a new federal habitual offender crime and authorizing warrantless arrest authority for federal law enforcement officers who determine there is probable cause when responding to domestic violence cases.”
  • “Focuses attention on the needs of underserved communities, creating legal relief for battered immigrants so abusers cannot use the victim’s immigration status to prevent victims from calling the police or seeking safety, and supports tribal governments in building their capacity to protect American Indian and Alaska Native women.”
  • “Provides a limited jurisdictional fix to address a narrow set of egregious crimes committed in Indian country: domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protection orders.  It does not extend to other crimes or to crimes committed beyond reservation boundaries.”
  • “VAWA is limited to only crimes of domestic violence or dating violence committed in Indian country where the defendant is a spouse or established intimate partner of a tribal member.  It does not permit tribal prosecutions unless the defendant has “sufficient ties to the Indian tribe,” meaning he/she must either reside in the Indian country of the prosecuting tribe, be employed in the Indian country of the prosecuting tribe, or be the spouse or intimate partner of a member of the prosecuting tribe.”

Each of the 12 federally recognized tribes of Michigan have their own tribal court and social service departments that assist women and families who are in violent situations. Michigan State University Extension continues to work with Michigan tribal nations to address the needs of communities in the area of government and public policy.  

For more information, please contact Emily Proctor, MSU Extension educator on tribal nations, with questions or comments at 231-439-8927 or

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