Congress passes bipartisan protection for Native women


Last updated 3/17/2013 at 12:59pm

National Congress of American Indians

US Senator Daniel Akaka stands with Native women advocates during a rally for passing a comprehensive VAWA reauthorization. Standing with Senator Akaka, from left to right, are Jacqueline Agtuca, Public Policy Director, Clan Star, Juana Majel Dixon, NCAI First Vice President, Deborah Parker, Tulalip Tribes Vice President, and Terri Henry, Co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women and Councilwoman for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

HELENA, MT—Native women advocates in the United States are praising lawmakers for passage of an inclusive, bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that would afford protection to all women and victims of domestic violence. The bipartisan bill, S. 47, passed by the Senate in February 2013 and now by the House, 286 to 138, includes critical provisions to restore and strengthen tribal authority to protect Native women from violence in Indian Country. The hard-fought passage comes over 500 days after VAWA expired and the legislation stalled during the 112th Session of Congress.

“This bill is a major stride forward in fixing longstanding jurisdictional gaps in United States law that threaten the safety and lives of Native women, violate their human rights daily, and allow perpetrators of crimes on tribal lands to evade prosecution” said Jana Walker, senior attorney and director of the Indian Law Resource Center’s Safe Women, Strong Nations project.  “We hope that today’s vote will help end the epidemic levels of violence against Native women in Indian Country and lead to justice for all victims, including Native women who are among the most vulnerable in this country.”

Once signed into law, the bill will restore concurrent criminal jurisdiction to tribal governments over non-Indians having ties to the tribe and who commit domestic violence and dating violence against Native women in Indian country or violate protection orders.  Non-Indian offenders commit vast majority of the violent crimes against Native women.  “In many cases, these non-Indian perpetrators make a deliberate choice to live on our reservations, whether in connection with marriage to a tribal member or to avoid accountability for violent crimes committed against Native women,” said Terri Henry, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Councilwoman- Paint Town Community and Co-Chair of the National Congress of American Indians’ Task Force on Violence Against Native Women.  Current United States law creates a criminal jurisdiction gap for tribal governments over non-Indians, and the federal and state officials who have authority to prosecute these crimes are failing to do so at alarmingly high rates.  “This bill would strengthen the ability of tribal governments to protect Native women locally from domestic and dating violence,” Henry added.

The long overdue reauthorization of VAWA comes at a critical time. “One in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and six in ten will be physically assaulted,” said Lucy Simpson, Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc.  Simpson added that, “even worse, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is ten times the national average.”

“Native women have endured violence since colonization, and their blood continues to be shed due to the unjust and unacceptable jurisdictional loopholes in United States law,” said Juana Majel, 1st Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians and Co-Chair of its Task Force on Violence Against Native Women.  “We are pleased that Congress has finally stepped up to address the unchecked violence against Native women by freeing the hands of  Indian nations—the most appropriate entities—to protect Native women in their own communities from rapists and batterers,” she added.


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