Native American and Indigenous Studies Association

The premiere international & interdisciplinary professional organization for scholars, graduate students, independent researchers, and community members interested in all aspects of Indigenous Studies.

Open Season
In a supermassive black hole, the gravitational pull is so intense that light cannot escape it, rendering the hole the truest black in existence. Any bit of matter, be it space dust, radiation, stars or light itself, disappears without a trace once it enters the realm of a black hole. Picture this: a thriving solar system, something greater than and more complex than anything we can comprehend, destroyed in an instant. In the United States justice system, there exists a black hole. In fact, there are places in America that a criminal can go to hunt without fear of retribution. In these black holes it is open season all year, and no justice exists. Native American reservations are the hunting grounds, and Native American women are the game.
According to the United States Department of Justice, one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Eighty percent of these rape cases will be done by white males. The law states than any non-Native person that commits a crime on tribal land cannot be tried in a tribal court, so federal authorities then have the power to step in and prosecute the assailant. However, more often than not, they do not. Tribal sovereignty is so limited that tribal women have become targets for twisted criminals that are on the hunt for women to rape, and once the rape occurs, justice is nowhere to be found.
A term that has been thrown around recently surrounding this issue is “toothless sovereignty” (coined by Louise Erdrich in her novel, The Round House). The significance of and truth behind this metaphor is compelling. A mouth without teeth cannot eat; Native Americans without the ability to prosecute cannot find justice. Because of this, predators are free to roam reservation grounds among prey that cannot defend themselves with the law.
The relegation of Native American rape cases within local justice departments is real and harmful to the victims and the victims’ communities. A 2006 Michigan Law Review substantiates this claim:
Because Indian country tends not to be a prestigious posting, the agents in the RAs are often rookies or "first office agents" who seek transfer as soon as they are eligible, leading to sometimes high turnover among the FBI personnel dealing with Indian country offenses. (Washburn, 2006)
Families should not continue to be placed on the backburner. Human lives are not to be relegated and deprioritized. It is unthinkable that the level of harm and destruction caused by rape is being left almost entirely unchecked throughout the entire country.
Native Americans have protested sexual abuse and the incessant open season for decades, but protest has increased in recent months after a 2015 supreme court case did not rule in favor of the Native American agenda. The case, Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, is popularly referred to as the “most potentially devastating case for Indian Tribes in half a century” (Brewer, 2015) because it reinforced the jurisdictional black hole that is reservations. This was not the first time in US history that the Supreme Court decided against the expansion of Indian sovereignty. In fact, almost every case of the past three centuries has decided against the Native American party. The only exception to this happened very recently, under the current United States President, Barack Obama. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Tribal law and Order Act. The act allows for tribes to increase the length of sentences of offenders on Indian Country land. The act itself emphasizes decreasing violence on Native American women who are especially in danger.
Why is it that this issue, which has been growing so large for decades, was addressed for the first real time six years ago? It could be that the US government was focused on issues it believed to be more important. It could be that discrimination in areas surrounding Indian Country made it hard for protests to progress. It could be that Native voices just weren’t loud enough. Or, it could be all three.
Change will not begin to occur with the Supreme Court. In fact, change will not begin happening at any governmental platform. Change begins among the people. Once the world is informed about great issues such as this, individuals begin to take action. Once individuals take action, coalitions are formed, and these coalitions can create change. When the people demand it, the government should, in theory, supply it. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and injustice can only be corrected with cognizant individuals.
The “black hole” analogy does not end with the empty space in the law, or with the hunting ground that is reservations. Rape itself is a black hole in our society and in the lives of those who are affected by it. Just as a beautiful, miraculous galaxy can be swallowed in an instant, an invaluable life can be torn to pieces after a rape, never to return to its original state. Those who experience rape or who love somebody who has experienced rape should not have to live in fear of that rapist walking free. Justice can only be attained once Native American sovereignty is heightened, recognized, and respected. Once this is achieved, open season will finally come to an end.

**indicates cited work ** **

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