Domestic violence in Native American community sparks Washington debate

I grew up in Alaska and as a young reporter, one of the toughest stories to cover was the crisis of domestic violence and violence against women in the native community.

Which is why it caught my eye that one of the sticking points holding up the re-authorization of the Federal Violence Against Women Act is a new provision that would extend protections to undocumented workers, members of the LGBT community and native women.

This advocacy video — with some pretty bleak statistics — is what grabbed my attention.

Just last month, the Akwesasne Mohawk tribe received roughly $596,000 in Federal funding to combat domestic violence here in the North Country.

But VAWA remains on the shelf.  A bi-partisan bill that extends protections to Native American women passed the US Senate on a bipartisan vote.  But it’s been blocked in the House by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican.

According to Huffingtonpost, there appear to be some concerns within the GOP about giving added “jurisdiction to tribes,” though Cantor’s office denied that that was the sticking point.

The measure has drawn support from the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group within the GOP.

“Nobody should be able to get away with domestic abuse just because their victim is gay, transgender, an immigrant or Native American, and nobody should be denied help in recovering from abuse,” said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director, in a statement.

VAWA has been around since 1994 and, when in place, gives additional funding for law enforcement aimed at protecting women, while requiring those convicted of domestic violence to pay restitution, and allowing more civil lawsuits against abusers.

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12 Comments on “Domestic violence in Native American community sparks Washington debate”

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  1. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Reading the Hufpo article it appears the crux of the issue is giving the tribal courts jurisdiction over non-indians. They don’t have that authority and never have, seems like a logical sticking point. They are limited to jurisdiction over indians on tribal land and only to certain levels of crime according to what I can find.

    Seems to me the problem would easily be solved by letting tribal PD’s hold alleged perp non-indians for the State boys. End of problem, justice served. What am I missing? Local PD’s and our State Police hold suspects for other agencies routinely. It’s no different on the rez.

  2. Mervel says:

    They need to pass the bill. These other issues can be worked out they are administrative in nature. Thanks Brain for reporting on this issue.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    The republicans really should stop demagoguing minorities (and women). It used to win elections, but not any more, at least nationally.

  4. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Agreed, Arlo, that seems like such an obvious solution. I’d like to read something else about this before I form an opinion, because this article doesn’t quite explain why some people think a jurisdictional change is a necessary part of the bill … I get that the state police might not always be close enough to respond to an incident, but why couldn’t the tribal police hold a non-Indian suspect and then turn him over to the state police? It happens all the time, one agency responds to something because they’re closer, deals with the immediate situation and turns the case over to whoever should have jurisdiction once they get there.

    Also, what kind of penalties could a tribal court impose anyway? Are there prisons they can send people to? Can they send people to state prisons? This article says most rapes of Indian women are by non-Indians, implying that a non-Indian can commit rape on a reservation, leave and never have to answer because of some jurisdictional vacuum … I kind of doubt that’s the case, though.

  5. mervel says:

    I am not sure. I think for example if you speed through Hogensburg you can get a ticket from the tribal police, it seems to me they are simply local law enforcement in that regard. But I certainly don’t understand the complexities but it would seem that the bill itself should still go forward, what do tribal issues have to do with victims who are gay or who are undocumented etc, sounds bogus.

    Once again regardless of the reason, this makes Republicans look awful, its like they are totally tone deaf on these issues.

  6. Marlo Stanfield says:

    It looks like the Mohawk court is just traffic and civil matters:

    Anything else, I guess, even if the tribal police arrest you, you’d be in whatever town or county court would handle it. There are other parts of the country where tribal courts hear criminal cases, though, hence the dispute over this bill:

    Don’t enough about the issue to have an informed opinion, but it’s interesting stuff.

  7. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Mervel, you miss the larger point. It’s not the Republicans looking awful, it’s the media reporting the issue in such a way that the Republicans look awful. You have to read the article and understand the fluff to realize what the issue is. It in not, in any way, clearly state that the tribal courts have very limited authority over non-indians. In fact, it is made to sound as though you can rape and walk. That’s untrue.

    Slant, bias, agenda. That should be the bigger story. This isn’t a political question, it’s a question of law.

  8. Walker says:

    From the HufPo piece:

    “One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape…

    Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent of them are raped by non-Native men…”

    From an [Amnesty International piece

    In order to achieve justice, survivors of sexual violence [on reservations] frequently have to navigate a maze of tribal, state and federal law. The US federal government has created a complex interrelation between these three jurisdictions that undermines equality before the law and often allows perpetrators to evade justice. In some cases this has created areas of effective lawlessness which encourages violence. Action by US Congress is required to eliminate the possibility that complex jurisdictional rules and legislation in practice may deny survivors of sexual violence access to justice.

    I remember reading years ago that non-native rapists of native American women really could walk.

    Arlo, the only way Republicans can avoid the appearance that they just aren’t interested in a solution to the problem is to be proactive in trying to solve it, rather than simply blocking passage. There’s more here than spin.

  9. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Do you really believe that if an indian woman from Akwasasne went to the Massena SP and reported a rape that nothing would happen?

  10. Walker says:

    I don’t know, Arlo. And you don’t either. Read up on it.

  11. mervel says:

    She would not have the same legal protections as a white women and that is the point.

  12. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Horse puckey Mervel and I DO know Walker. Look into tribal courts and what authority they have. Here I’ll make it easy for you- What is happening here is an attempt to give tribal courts extra-legal jurisdiction, not an attempt to deny due process to a rape victim. Personally, I think tribal courts should be done away with and authority given to to the municipality. There’s the end of your problem. No more special courts with questionable ethics, procedures and punishment for certain groups. That’s not the rule of law. That’s a court based on ethnicity and that not justice.

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