Native women confront high rates of violence in Indian Country
Friday, June 17, 2016
More on: abuse, alaska, appropriations, crime, doj, house, ilrc, joe biden, jurisdiction, lisa murkowski, ncai, niwrc, republicans, s.1474, s.47, senate, supreme court, terri henry, tom cole, tribal courts, vawa, women, youth
Terri Henry, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, speaks at the National Congress of
American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C., February 25, 2015.
Henry serves as co-chair of NCAI's Task Force on Violence Against Women. Photo by Indianz.Com
Native women rallied on Capitol Hill on Thursday as they continued efforts to reduce high rates of violence in Indian Country.
The National Congress of American Indians, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the Indian Law Resource Center hosted an overflow crowd at the U.S. Capitol
to discuss a new report from the Department of Justice. The data confirms that Native women and men are victimized at rates far higher than the rest of the population and that most of the perpetrators are from another race.
But Terri Henry, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said she was surprised by the latest findings despite of her years of work on the issue. According to the report, 84.3 percent of Native women and 81.6 percent of Native men have experienced violence in their lifetimes.
"This research that came out was alarming and shocking," said Henry, who co-chairs NCAI's task force on violence against women. "It's really kind of made us stand back and think, 'It's worse than we were saying.'"
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, agreed with that assessment. In light of the high rates, she vowed to push for an expansion of tribal jurisdiction and to use her position on the Senate Committee on Appropriations to ensure funding comes to Indian Country.
"This should be a call to action, a call to congressional action," Murkowski said of the report.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, was equally supportive. He said the expanding tribal authority was one of the best ways for Congress to help address the problem.
"We've got to empower people to police their own communities
and to hold people that are committing horrific acts," said Cole.
Both Murkowski and Cole reminded the crowd that the tribal jurisdiction provisions in Violence
Against Women Act did not come without a fight. Republicans in the House and the Senate balked until Native women came to Capitol Hill to share their stories of survival, they noted.
Native women rallied at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 7, 2015, as the
justices heard Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw
Indians, a tribal jurisdiction case. Photo by Indianz.Com
Three years after S.47 became law, tribes are slowly but surely arresting, prosecuting and sentencing non-Indians for abusing their partners. VAWA requires them to protect the legal rights of defendants, such as providing an attorney for those who cannot afford one and convening juries that represent the entire community.
"It's quite apparent that the dire predictions of what might happen, that we all heard throughout consideration of VAWA in 2013, have not come to fruition," Murkowski said.
The briefing marked a key step in efforts to educate Congress about the issues facing Indian Country. Earlier in the week, Vice President Joe Biden said it's not too early to start talking about the next version of VAWA.
"Since the Violence Against Women Act is next up for reauthorization in 2018, now is the time to ignite the conversation," Biden said at the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., an event attended by about two dozen Native women, on Tuesday.
A day earlier, U.S. Supreme Court upheld a provision in the 2005 version of VAWA that recognizes tribal convictions in order to punish people who repeatedly abuse their partners. Native women and their advocates said the unanimous
decision confirms the role tribes play in addressing domestic violence in their communities.
Native women are now looking for ways to address situations not covered by the 2013 version of VAWA. That includes preventing abuse against children and prosecuting a wider range of rapes and sexual assaults committed by non-Indians.
Murkowski also hopes to focus on the unique situation in Alaska. Tribes in her state were initially excluded from VAWA until Congress passed S.1474, the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act, in December 2014. Moving forward will require new approaches, she said.
"If we just keep recycling the old ideas that got us nowhere then we're not
going to change these numbers," Murkowski said.
National Institute of Justice Report:
Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men (May 2016)
President Biden urges work on Violence Against Women Act (6/15)
Hill briefing set on violence against Native women and men (6/14)
Court decision hailed as a victory for tribal sovereignty (06/14)
Fletcher: Takeaways from Supreme Court's new decision (06/14)
Court upholds use of tribal convictions in federal system (06/13)
News: Tribes support efforts to expand criminal authority (05/19)
Committee on Indian Affairs focuses on justice issues (05/17)
Washburn: Empower tribes to prosecute reservation crime (05/11)
to finally see funding to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians (05/09)
confirms high rate of violence against Native women and men (05/05)
Supreme Court case prompts
spirited defense of tribal judiciary systems (04/19)
Bill in Senate expands tribal
jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders (04/14)
Capitol Hill briefing on
Violence Against Women Act in Indian Country (02/22)
Cherokee Nation working to
prosecute non-Indians under VAWA (01/07)
Supreme Court agrees to
review yet another Indian law dispute (12/14)
DOJ asks Supreme Court to
hear Indian domestic violence case (11/11)
Vice President Joe Biden
reflects on triumphs of Obama's Indian policies (10/28)
Tribes still waiting on funds
from Violence Against Women Act (10/16)
Pioneering tribes share
experiences with prosecuting non-Indians (10/07)
DOJ awards $97M in grants for
public safety in Indian Country (09/16)
Nez Perce Tribe hosts
conference to combat violence and abuse (09/09)
Alaska to recognize tribal
domestic violence protection orders (07/31)
Congress fails to provide
funds to help tribes comply with VAWA (07/29)
Ambassador Harper discusses
violence against indigenous women (07/09)
Native Sun News: Oglala
leader blames deaths on domestic violence (07/06)
Appropriations bill adds $10M
for tribal courts in PL280 states (07/01)
Eastern Cherokees assert
authority in all domestic violence cases (06/16)
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate ready
to exercise VAWA jurisdiction (05/22)
Pascua Yaqui Tribe hosts Violence Against Women Act
Native Sun News: Tribes meet
to discuss VAWA implementation (04/10)
California Indian Legal
Services announces new VAWA project (04/06)
US Attorneys host tribes for
Violence Against Women Act session (04/02)
Pascua Yaqui Tribe prosecutes
19 non-Indian cases with VAWA (03/20)
LTBB News: Little Traverse
Bay Bands to exercise VAWA power (03/19)
Eastern Cherokees make
changes to exercise VAWA authority (03/18)
Tribes in Montana still
looking at jurisdiction provisions in VAWA (03/13)
Fort Peck Tribes ready to
exercise VAWA power over non-Indians (03/12)
White House Blog: Tribes make
communities safer with VAWA (03/11)
Tribes in pilot project filed
26 VAWA cases against non-Indians (03/10)
Tribes reach key milestone with jurisdiction
provisions of VAWA (3/9)
Updates from National
Congress of American Indians winter session (2/26)
Tribes in Maine face
opposition to jurisdiction over non-Indians (02/24)
Bill requires law degree to
join Navajo Nation Supreme Court (02/03)
Obama signs measure to extend
VAWA tribal provision to Alaska (12/19)
VAWA jurisdiction provision
poses special issue for Alaska tribes (12/15)
Congress clears bill to
extend VAWA tribal provisions to Alaska (12/12)
Senate backs measure to
extend VAWA tribal provisions to Alaska (12/09)
Vice President Biden calls
for inclusion of Alaska tribes in VAWA (12/04)
PBS: VAWA helps tribes go
after non-Indian domestic offenders (11/24)
Republicans hold up action on
Alaska tribal jurisdiction measure (11/19)
Eric Holder: Responding to
sexual violence in Indian Country (11/18)
DOJ task force calls for
tribal jurisdiction in child abuse cases (11/18)
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