Law | National

Interview with Sarah Deer about violence against Native women

Sarah Deer. Photo from John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Mary Hudetz, the president of the Native American Journalists Association, interviews attorney and professor Sarah Deer, a member of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma, who was been awarded a prestigious "genius grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work to prevent violence against Native women:
She the People: You’re a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and attended the University of Kansas law school. What motivated you to direct your career specifically toward addressing violence against Native American women on reservations?

Sarah Deer: I think the real pivotal point for me came when I started as an undergrad at KU, and I worked with women who reported rape to a crisis hotline. That work offered a chance to listen and talk to many women, including students at Haskell Indian Nations University (also in Lawrence, Kan.). They reached out to the crisis line, too, and the stories of those women showed so much resilience. But I also sensed a deep, deep despair, and after those early experiences and hearing those stories, I wanted to go to law school.

STP: Were there specific moments or topics you learned about while in law school that added to your decision?

SD: I didn’t grow up in a tribal jurisdiction, so I hadn’t been exposed to the inequities in the justice system for Native women. When I got to law school and took up federal Indian law, I expected it to be all about treaties and land … But when professors started to talk about jurisdiction, a light bulb went off, and I thought this is why there are so many disparities for Native American women.

I also remember one time in Lawrence, I was working with and comforting a Haskell student who had been assaulted, and she asked me when the FBI was going to come, and I thought “the FBI wouldn’t respond to this, that’s not what the FBI does.” But whenever there was a violent crime on a reservation, federal authorities would become involved. That revealed a lot to me about the differences on reservations.

Get the Story:
She The People: ‘We’re not done’: MacArthur Fellow Sarah Deer finds justice for Native American victims of violence (The Washington Post 9/22)

Related Stories:
Sarah Deer wins genius grant for work to protect Native women (9/17)

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