HCN: Tribes asserting their sovereignty with update to VAWA

High Country News on S.47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013:
Victims' advocates joined legislators at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck on March 26, to discuss the recently reauthorized Violence Against Women Act. The meeting began on a celebratory note: The federal law restored to tribal courts the right to prosecute non-Indians for abusing or assaulting Native American women on Indian land -- something the U.S. Supreme Court had previously prohibited. "We were so excited. We'd been waiting so long," says Melissa Merrick, victim assistance director for Spirit Lake Reservation, in the center of the state. Then Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who had voted for the bill but objected to the new provision, stood to speak. "How could a non-Native man get a fair trial on a reservation?" he demanded, according to Merrick and other attendees. "He didn't feel secure going onto a reservation anymore," said Merrick. "I asked him, 'Why? Don't beat up our women, and you'll be fine.' "

Cramer's remarks upset Merrick, a survivor of abuse. The congressman was also wrong: Tribes must offer defendants all the protections normally afforded American citizens -- due process, trained judges, free counsel, representative and balanced juries. And the provision applies only to non-Indians who live or work on the reservation and are in intimate relationships with plaintiffs. Nationwide, 77 percent of Indian Country residents are non-Indian, and roughly half of Native American women have non-Indian partners. Merrick sees the Violence Against Women Act as a step toward healing the Spirit Lake community, which has come under scrutiny recently for child abuse and other violence. Both tribal members and non-Indians are to blame -- at least 1,000 non-Indians live on the reservation -- and some perpetrators have so far escaped prosecution.

Get the Story:
Is the Violence Against Women Act a chance for tribes to reinforce their sovereignty? (High Country News 6/10)

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