Protections for Native American survivors of domestic violence

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Congress enacted the Violence against Women Act (“VAWA”) in 1994 in response to the severity of violence against women and the need for a national strategic response. VAWA sought to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States. VAWA strengthened provisions to protect victims of domestic violence, hold offenders accountable and created programs to provide services for the victims. #3072En

Please Note:

  • If you need protection right now, contact call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) to find the domestic violence shelter nearest you. Shelters provide safety planning, temporary shelter, legal advocacy, counseling, and other services.
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline is a peer support service of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Advocates are available 24/7 by texting or calling 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) or through the online chat at strongheartshelpline.org.
  • We wrote this for tribal members who live in the state of Washington. However, much of what you read here also applies elsewhere in the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, to learn about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA is not just for women. This law offers domestic violence protections for all survivors of any gender.

This federal law addresses violence against Native American and Alaskan Native survivors of any gender living in the United States.

You will learn:

  • How tribes can make and enforce protection orders involving anyone within the Indian tribe’s authority (jurisdiction).
  • How non-tribal courts must honor (give “full faith and credit to”) protection orders from tribal courts. 

A “protection order” is any state, tribal, or local court order whose purpose is to stop:

  • violent or threatening acts or harassment
  • sexual violence
  • contact or communication with, or getting physically near to, another person

This includes any temporary or final order issued by a criminal or non-criminal (civil) court.

Under VAWA, tribal courts can make and enforce civil protection orders involving any person, Indian or non-Indian, both of these are true:

  • Tribal law gives the court jurisdiction to make such an order about the people involved.
  • The person you need restrained gets reasonable notice and a chance to be heard. Read Due Process in Indian Country, available at WashingtonLawHelp.org, to learn more.
* This is different from the criminal authority to prosecute someone who has broken (violated) a protection order. To learn more about when tribes can prosecute domestic violence offences, read the Department of Justice's VAWA Reauthorization 2013 FAQ.

VAWA makes clear that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to make and enforce protection orders in matters anywhere in the “Indian Country of the Indian tribe” or otherwise within the tribe’s authority. A tribe’s Indian Country includes:

  • Reservation Lands: Lands within the boundaries of a federally recognized tribe’s reservation.
  • Trust Lands: Lands set aside for Indians but not within reservation boundaries. 
  • “Dependent Indian Communities:” land that is federally supervised and set aside for the use of Indians.
  • Allotments: Federal parcels of tribal trust land allotted to particular Indian persons or families. Parcels in trust or restricted status are Indian country even if they are not within a reservation.
  • Other: Congress can designate certain lands as Indian country even if they do not fit one of the categories above. 

It is when one court recognizes and enforces the orders of a court of another jurisdiction. Under VAWA, your protection order is enforceable wherever you are in the United States.

Example: A member of the Spokane Nation seeks a protection order against her ex-spouse, a non-Indian. Both live on the Colville reservation. She gets a valid protection order from the Colville Tribal Court. After getting the order, her ex-spouse gets more threatening. She moves to Yakima to live with family. Yakima’s local courts and law enforcement agencies can enforce her Colville tribal court protection order.
 

In both cases, yes. If they meet VAWA’s requirements, you can have your protection orders enforced throughout the United States. Protection orders issued by state courts are valid on reservations. Under Washington law, state courts must give tribal protection orders full faith and credit.

* Some courts may try to make you certify your protection order from another jurisdiction, or get a special seal for it, before they give it full faith and credit. This is not allowed under VAWA. Talk to a lawyer.

You do not have to do this, but you can choose to file (register) your protection order with the court in the county or other jurisdiction you move to. This may make enforcing the order easier.

In Washington State, either you or the court can register a “foreign” protection order (an order issued by another state or Tribe) using the Foreign Protection Order Information form. You can download the FPOI form or use form number WPF DV-1.050-FPOI to find it on the Washington Courts’ list of forms.

To register a state protection order in tribal court, call the tribe directly. The State Tribal Directory has contact info for tribes within Washington State.

To register a tribal protection order in a different tribe’s court: Call the tribe directly. Not all tribal courts will register a tribal protection order from other jurisdictions.

* Even if you do not register your protection order, keep a copy of the original protection order and proof of service with you at all times.

You should report any violations of the protection order to your local law enforcement agency. There can be many consequences.

  • In tribal court, you can file a motion asking the court to hold your ex in contempt for violating the order. After a finding of contempt, the court can order your ex to do jail time, pay a fine, or both. A tribal prosecutor can file criminal misdemeanor charges for violation of the protection order.
  • If a state court is enforcing a tribal court order, and the order says a violation will be a crime, your ex could be arrested without a warrant, subject to electronic monitoring, or get other penalties for being in contempt of court.

Not at this time. There is a federal registry for protection orders. But tribal protection orders are not often listed there.

Some tribes have agreements with neighboring county jurisdictions. These agreements ensure that tribal protection orders are entered into the state and federal registries.

The Northwest Justice Project's Native American Unit (NAU) provides free civil legal services for people who cannot afford a lawyer in Washington. 

  • In King County: Call 2-1-1.
  • All other counties: Call the CLEAR hotline toll-free at 1-888-201-1014, weekdays 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-888-201-1014 using your preferred TTY or Video relay service.
  • Apply online with CLEAR*Online - nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.
  • Persons 60 and Over can call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

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Last Review and Update: Feb 24, 2022
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