- Crime and Social Justice in Indian Country ed. by Marianne O. Nielsen and Karen Jarratt-Snider
BEAUTY, AS THE OLD ADAGE GOES, is in the eye of the beholder. So it is with Crime and Social Justice in Indian Country. The utility of the edited volume will depend on a reader's expectations before engaging with the text.
First explaining what the volume does not do is the most useful way of then engaging with the successes of the work. Unsurprisingly, in a book titled Crime and Social Justice in Indian Country, there are a number of passing allusions to the legal framework that makes crime and social justice in Indian Country different from anywhere else in the United States. And yet, very surprisingly, there is no serious attempt to describe that framework or give the reader any sense of the context in which crime and social justice operate in Indian Country. There is no workable description of how the federal government came to be deeply involved in criminal law in Indian Country (e.g., the Major Crimes Act), how certain states became more involved in criminal law in Indian Country (e.g., Public Law 280), or the various constraints on the criminal law and punishments that tribal nations can proscribe (e.g., Oliphant). Many of the critical cases and statutes that shape how crime is treated in Indian Country do receive some explicit mention—Oliphant, perhaps the most important Indian law case in the last half-century, is eventually mentioned by name on page 187—but often in a manner that, at best, assumes that the reader already has a level of knowledge about the material.
Lacking this critical grounding, the volume can sometimes feel as if it is missing a true sense of purpose. What is this work trying to accomplish, since it does not provide the context to most fully engage with the questions it raises? For example, Alisse Ali-Joseph's chapter on Native athletic participation on the collegiate level is a fine piece of scholarship that asks some useful questions about the role that sports have played and do play in Native America. Yet it takes a lot of imagination to understand it as fitting within the category of either crime or social justice.
This lack of critical grounding also leads to some deeper problems. At a minimum, opportunities are missed. For example, on page 6 the editors of the volume offer the shocking statistic that while Natives only account for approximately 2 percent of the American population, they account for 16 [End Page 194] percent of the federal prison population. Within the text, this statistic is used merely to note the overrepresentation of Native people in the criminal justice system. In fact, the problems of crime within Indian Country—as the volume frames it—never rise above the general notion of colonialism. As stated by the editors on page 3, "Indigenous Americans are a population with a unique political and legal status, whose justice issues—and solution—are rooted in colonialism." Had the text established the critical grounding that shapes issues of crime for Native America, the editors could have made the much more direct and powerful argument that this overrepresentation is caused, in large part, by the federal government both under- and overenforcing criminal law in Indian Country as a result of the structure of federal Indian law.
These drawbacks make it impossible to recommend this volume as a primary text for a scholar or class that wants a global view of crime and social justice in Indian Country. Nonetheless, individual chapters are provocative and would be useful secondary readings for a scholar or class seeking to seriously engage with this subject matter. As with any edited volume, there is a varying degree of helpfulness among the chapters. But of the volume's three units, the third, "Community Responses," is the standout. Anne Luna-Gordinier's chapter is a very nice description of the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Violence Against Women Act and...