The debate in Congress is still raging over whether to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). One of the major points of conflict between the champions of the bipartisan Senate bill and the deeply flawed Republican House version is over the power Indian tribes have to investigate and prosecute domestic violence crimes.
The Senate bill would restore Indian tribes’ ability to prosecute non-Indians who assault their Indian spouses or domestic partners. Dating back to the much-criticized 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe, only the federal government can prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians on tribal land. The decision was a disaster for tribes’ ability to protect their communities.
The vast majority of violent crimes against Native women are committed by non-Indian men, and current law leaves a gaping hole in accountability for abusers and protections for victims. Tribes do not have the authority to hold these offenders accountable, and the federal government does not have the resources or the will. Federal authorities decline to prosecute 46% of assaults and 67% of sexual abuse cases in Indian country.
Violence against Native women is at epidemic levels, and has been for many years. A new CDC study shows that 46% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have been raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner. In Washington State, Native women are killed by husbands and boyfriends at nearly three times the rate of white women.
Safety for victims of violence and sovereignty for tribes go hand in hand. Some VAWA opponents are using misinformation and scare tactics to try to minimize the extent of violence against Native women and deny tribes the tools to confront it. Tuesday, June 26th will be a National Day of Action to support the real VAWA and its long overdue protections for Native women. Make sure your representatives know where you stand.