By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Almost 40 percent of American Indian women will be a victim of violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime according to the CDC. And, according to the 2010 Census, almost 60 percent of American Indian women are married to a non-Indian partner.
Until now, tribal courts had no jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence crimes against American Indian women. A piece of legislation heading to President Obama’s desk will change that.
The House passed the Leahy-Crapo Senate version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) by a vote of 286-138 on Thursday, Feb. 28.
“We made the Violence Against Women Act our top priority this Congress, but it should not have taken this long,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. “Still, at a time when we face gridlock and stonewalling on even the most compelling issues, I am glad to see that we could find a way to cut through all of that to help victims of violence.”
President Obama released a statement stating his positive position on the legislation. “Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.”
NCAI president Jefferson Keel said in a statement, “With this authority, comes a serious responsibility and tribal courts will administer justice with the same level of impartiality that any defendant is afforded in state and federal courts. We have strong tribal courts systems that protect public safety. The law respects tribal sovereignty, and also requires that our courts respect the due process rights of all defendants.”
Painttown Rep. Terri Henry, who also serves as the co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women, said, “There were at least five things that came together: an enormous grassroots effort from Indian Country; the coalition of the National Task Force to End Domestic Violence; statistics so we could finally show the problem; steadfast leadership from the Department of Justice; and incredible support from so many members of Congress; both Republicans and Democrats.
Principal Chief Michell Hicks said, “The Violence Against Women Act re-affirms tribal sovereignty by allowing our legal system to protect victims of domestic violence. Our community deserves justice whether or not perpetrators are tribal members. The passage of the VAWA by the U.S. Congress this week is another step in providing tribal community autonomy in the governance of our Nations.”
He continued, “I would like to thank Rep. Tom Cole for his vote for this legislation and to acknowledge Mark Meadows and Patrick McHenry of the North Carolina delegation for all their support to make this important legislation a reality.”
Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn said in a statement, “American Indian women experience among the highest domestic violence victimization rates in the country and more than half of all married Indian women have non-Indian husbands. This legislation provides tools to tribal governments to address the problem of domestic violence much more completely on Indian reservations.”
Attorney General Eric Holder spoke of the bills’ American Indian provisions in a statement, “Congress has also taken an historic step to finally close the loophole that left many Native American women without adequate protection. With this bill, tribes and the federal government can better work together to address domestic violence against Native American women, who experience the highest rates of assault in the United States.”