Video: Despite Problems At Spirit Lake, Heitkamp Defends Expansion Of Tribal Jurisdiction


The Violence Against Women Act has been heralded by Senator Heitkamp as one of the major achievements of her first 100 days in the US Senate. She’s even gone so far as to take a victory lap around the state after its passage in the Senate, and in this observer’s humble opinion she’s been quietly fanning the flames of controversy over comments Rep. Kevin Cramer made objecting to provisions of the legislation.

But it may be this issue is going to backfire on her.

During an interview with Valley News Live’s Chris Berg, Heitkamp doubled-down on her support of the law calling Cramer “wrong” in his objections to the law.

Berg asks Senator Heitkamp bluntly, what has she done to address the problems with child abuse and violence at Spirit Lake. She claims she’s spoken out about it, but if she has there’s no media report about it on the internet nor any press releases on her Senate website.

Heitkamp is quick to champion the expansion of tribal court jurisdiction over non-tribal members contained in the Violence Against Women Act – the provisions Rep. Cramer said made him feel unsafe on reservations as a non-tribal member – but she has few good answers for a place like Spirit Lake where, according to an interview I did with a former tribal judge, there are no public defenders and no appeals courts.

Senator Heitkamp gets the politics of the “war on women,” and she understands that the Indian tribes are an important voting constituency for her in the state. That’s why she has championed the VAWA. And yet, in doing so, she seems to be putting politics ahead protecting due process rights and the victims of abuse and violence. Many of this nation’s tribes – not just the Spirit Lake Sioux – are already doing a horrendous job of bringing those guilty of abuse and violence to justice.

Yet, Heitkamp wants to give them more jurisdiction.

That’s a tricky political game to play and, again, it could blow up in her face.