The Difficulties With Getting Legal Services on Native American Reservations

Augustine ReservationBy Dominique Alan Fenton

The Marshall Project

The Justice Center for the People is a short walk north from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s southern border with Nebraska. The imposing complex, which was finished last year, stands in stark contrast to the wind-swept prairie that surrounds it. The building and the laws enforced here are designed to blend American and Lakota judicial customs.

Oglala Sioux Tribal Court is where descendants of Crazy Horse’s Oglala band of the Lakota come for justice.

But in criminal cases in this South Dakota reservation, located in one of thepoorest counties in America, people must pay for their own defense. It is nearly impossible to say what percentage of criminal defendants here receive no legal assistance, since these records are not digitized. But an afternoon at arraignments will give you a pretty clear idea: most.

Native Americans who live on more than 300 federal reservations are afforded rights outlined in the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, but the scope of indigent representation is left for tribes to determine. When funding is limited, as is often the case on reservations nationwide, public defense regularly gets cut.

Continue to full article . . .

Picture: Visitor7 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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