The pilot project with three tribes in the western United States was announced Thursday in a statement by the U.S. Justice Department.
Tribes have been prevented since a 1978 Supreme Court ruling from prosecuting non-American Indians accused of abuse against American Indian spouses or partners that occurred on tribal lands or reservations.
The project, authorized under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, allows the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona to have special criminal jurisdiction in such cases.
The provisions don't go into effect until March 2015, but the law allows the attorney general to permit the tribes to start voluntary pilot projects before that date.
"Our actions today mark a historic turning point," said Associate Attorney General Tony West, who will approve the requests. "We believe that by certifying certain tribes to exercise jurisdiction over these crimes, we will help decrease domestic and dating violence in Indian Country, strengthen tribal capacity to administer justice and control crime, and ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their criminal behavior."