IPR: VAWA provides a 'ray of hope' for Native victims of violence

Three tribes are the first to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders under a pilot program established by S.47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act:
For almost four decades, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling has barred tribes from prosecuting non-American Indian defendants. But as part of last year's re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a new program now allows tribes to try some non-Indian defendants in domestic abuse cases.

It will be another year before the program expands to other eligible federally-recognized tribes around the country in March 2015. But the Department of Justice has selected three tribes to exercise this authority first, including the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, and the Tulalip Tribes, located north of Seattle.

Deborah Parker serves as the Tulalip Tribes' vice chair. For three years, she flew back and forth between Washington state and Washington, D.C., giving speeches and knocking on doors — an experience that she says felt like "going to war."

"You got to go to battle," Parker says, "and you have to convince a lot of people that native women are worth protecting,"

And that protection, Parker was convinced, had to come from Congress. So she pushed for legislation allowing American Indian tribes to prosecute non-Indian defendants in domestic violence cases.

About four out of every ten women of American Indian or Alaskan Native descent have "experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's an alarming statistic that Parker knows all too well from growing up on the reservation.

"We didn't have a strong police presence when I was younger. Even [if you called] the police, often they didn't respond," she says. "When they did, they would say, 'Oh, it's not our jurisdiction, sorry.' [And] prosecutors wouldn't show up."

Get the Story:
For Abused Native American Women, New Law Provides A 'Ray Of Hope' (IPR 2/20)

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