But Democrats don't think the law doesn't go far enough. That's why H.R.1585 recognizes tribal jurisdiction over crimes that aren't currently covered by VAWA, including stalking, sex trafficking, sexual violence and assaults on children and law enforcement. The bill also addresses the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, an issue that has finally gained the attention of lawmakers after decades of being ignored. And it provides more resources for urban Indians, whose needs have long been overlooked despite federal policies that resulted in tribal citizens moving to metropolitan areas, away from their home communities. "For indigenous women and children throughout the United States, we must act,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs who was the first woman to serve as its chair.
“We stood up for tribal rights,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) says of the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and protect Native women and address crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. #MMIW #MMIWG pic.twitter.com/sNhYwCWXOV— indianz.com (@indianz) May 22, 2019
But while renewing VAWA has long been considered a bipartisan affair on Capitol Hill, H.R.1585 has struggled to gain Republican support in this divided era of politics. The bill only has one GOP co-sponsor out of the 197 in the House. And when the measure came up for a vote last month, only 33 Republicans voted in its favor. A far greater number -- 157, to be exact -- voted against it, citing language affecting gun ownership, transgender rights and even tribal jurisdiction. "We have never had a hearing on whether we should take away the constitutional rights of non-Indians who end up being charged in tribal court," Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) said in March as he tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the tribal provisions from existing law. That explains why H.R.1585 has failed to get anywhere following the vote in the House. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican majority leader of the Senate, has refused to take up legislation that lacks support from his party. “Right now, the U.S. Senate is a legislative graveyard,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota), a new member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said of the stalemate in her chamber.
“It’s even worse for Native Americans and indigenous women and children,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) says of need to renew the Violence Against Women Act to protect Native families and address crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. #MMIW #MMIWG pic.twitter.com/rfpRkJR25w— indianz.com (@indianz) May 22, 2019
VAWA needs to be reauthorized every five years and Congress has done so three times since the first version became law in 1994. The 2013 version, though, marked the first rollback of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, a 1978 ruling which held that tribes lacked criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Long before the decision, a number of tribes had laws on their books to protect their women from violence, regardless of the race or citizenship of the perpetrator. Advocates have cited this history in order to counter arguments against recognizing the sovereignty of Indian nations. "Tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians isn't unconstitutional," Mary Kathryn Nagle, a playwright and attorney, said at the Safety for Our Sisters symposium, held at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. in March. "It's just pre-constitutional," said Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation whose tribe asserted jurisdiction over anyone who committed violence against a woman as far back as the early 1800s. The 2013 version of VAWA addresses the pre-constitutional issues by requiring tribes to improve their justice systems and to provide all defendants, regardless of race, with access to legal counsel and to a trial by a jury drawn from the community. among other protections. It also allows non-Indians who have been detained by a tribe to have their status reviewed in federal court. Since 2013, no such petition has ever been filed, which proponents -- even some Republicans -- say speaks to the fairness of tribal justice systems. "Tribal governments, through trust and treaty obligations, should have the same authority as states to protect women and children in vulnerable situations," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and one of four Native Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives, said during debate on H.R.1585 last month. Though Cole objected to the process in which Democrats brought the bill to the floor of the chamber, he said he supports the expansion of tribal jurisdiction to cover additional crimes, such as those against children and law enforcement. "I support the right of tribes to enact their own definition of domestic and sexual violence, rather than replacing it with the federal government's definitions," Cole said on April 3. "States already have this flexibility -- tribes should as well."
“Right now the US Senate is a legislative graveyard,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), member of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, says in calling for passage of bill to protect Native women and address crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. #MMIW #MMIWG pic.twitter.com/LByylwMUfn— indianz.com (@indianz) May 22, 2019
Despite expressing misgivings, Cole was among the 33 Republicans who voted for H.R.1585. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), whose amendment ensuring that Native villages in Alaska can exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians was included in the bill, was another crossover. "My amendment would add jurisdiction for all lands inside Alaska Native villages to cover where the majority of violence actually occurs," Young, whose children and grandchildren are Native, said during debate on April 3. "Villages need to be empowered to develop local solutions to these problems." On the other hand, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, joined the majority of his GOP colleagues in voting against the bill. He has not publicly explained his opposition but he otherwise supports efforts to address violence and victimization of Native women. "The silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women is wreaking havoc on our families and our communities," Mullin said earlier this month after he and the three other Native members of Congress introduced the Not Invisible Act, which does enjoy bipartisan support. H.R.2438, establishes an advisory committee of tribal leaders, law enforcement, federal officials, service providers and survivors. The group would make recommendations on addressing violent crime to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice. The committee would also develop best practices for law enforcement to address missing persons, murder and trafficking of Native Americans. Additionally, the bill creates a position within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve coordination across all federal agencies. “The Not Invisible Act of 2019 will help to increase coordination and establish best practices for law enforcement on how to combat the epidemic of missing, murdered, and trafficked Native women," said Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation and is one of the first two Native women in Congress. The bill was introduced by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna, on May 1. Original co-sponsors include Cole, Mullin and Davids, making it the first in the history of Congress to be supported by Native members. "Congressional members of federally recognized tribes are stepping up for our communities by working to set up an advisory board that is specifically focused on finding solutions to address this silent crisis,” said Haaland. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where Haaland serves as vice chair, and to the House Committee on the Judiciary, the panel where Republicans have opposed the tribal jurisdiction provisions of VAWA. A hearing hasn't been scheduled so far.
“Do your job,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) says in calling for Senate to renew the Violence Against Women Act. The bill expands tribal jurisdiction over non Indians and addresses crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. #MMIW #MMIWG pic.twitter.com/Q6SrTHBQ9S— indianz.com (@indianz) May 22, 2019
AUDIO/VIDEO: Democrats call for action to address #MMIW crisis (May 7, 2019)
Rep. Markwayne Mullin: Bipartisan bill protects Native women and girls (May 7, 2019)
YES! Magazine: Indigenous communities take action for missing and murdered (April 22, 2019)
Leader of Jicarilla Apache Nation stepped down after remarks about 'loose women' (April 12, 2019)
Navajo Nation in mourning after body of 4-year-old missing girl is found (April 4, 2019)
House adds more Indian Country provisions to Violence Against Women Act (April 3, 2019)
'Not one more': Native woman laid to rest after going missing in urban area (April 1, 2019)
House moves closer to passage of Violence Against Women Act (April 1, 2019)
'What she say, it be law': Tribes protected their women before being stripped of sovereignty (March 25, 2019)
National Museum of the American Indian hosts 'Safety for Our Sisters' symposium (March 21, 2019)
'An abomination': Republicans try to strip tribal jurisdiction from Violence Against Women Act (March 18, 2019)
Advocates call for funding, data to find missing, murdered Native women (March 18, 2019)
Native women leaders lined up for hearing on missing and murdered sisters (March 12, 2019)
'It could be me': Native American teen teaches self-defense to keep indigenous kids safe (March 11, 2019)
House subcommittee schedules hearing on missing and murdered indigenous women (March 8, 2019)
Native Sun News Today: Pipeline opponents and advocates warn of dangers of man camps (March 8, 2019)
Cronkite News: Attention finally being paid to missing and murdered sisters (March 6, 2019)
MSU News: Powwow dedicated to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (March 4, 2019)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation celebrates the women who make us strong (March 4, 2019)
'Shameful': Congress fails to take action on missing and murdered Indigenous women (January 10, 2019)
Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo (December 7, 2018)
High Country News: It's business as usual for crime on tribal lands (November 29, 2018)
Trump administration argues against tribal sovereignty in Supreme Court case (November 27, 2018)
Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo (November 2, 2018)