An extraordinary day

At our conference last week, we celebrated the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and honored Deborah Parker for her strength and leadership. The following is from a speech given by our Executive Director, Nan Stoops.Homepage-Graphic-Conference2013

On February 28 of this year, Congress passed a bill that renewed the Violence Against Women Act. What might have been a somewhat ordinary day on the hill was an extraordinary day for survivors and advocates across the country. We had gone 500 days without VAWA. Not much changed during those 500 days, and yet, in my mind, everything changed.

In my 35 years of doing anti-violence work, I have witnessed and participated in periods of incredible hardship and divisiveness. Times when we compromised and then looked the other way. Times when we failed to listen to each other. Times when we could not, or would not, build the bridges that we say we want and know we need.

Not this time. This time we got it right. This time we were willing to wait 500 days. And in those 500 days, I think we realized that we would go another 500 if we had to. Because we developed the political will and principled strategy that we knew would eventually prevail. We stopped building protections for some at the expense of others. We acknowledged the unique challenges experienced by LGBT and immigrant survivors. And we finally recognized tribal authority over non-tribal members when they commit domestic violence on tribal land.

The legal precedent with respect to tribal sovereignty is significant. So too is the humanity of it. With the passage of VAWA, we broke with the tradition of this country. We were led by our Native sisters and brothers, and we joined with countless organizations to create a pathway for securing the sovereign rights of the indigenous people of this country.

I watched CSPAN on the morning of February 28th. I followed the procedural maneuvers, and I watched the roll call vote. When it was apparent that there were enough votes, I texted Grace (our public policy coordinator) to confirm, and then I just sat there and whispered “wow.” It was as if all of the years and all of the work converged into a moment. We had stayed on the side of “justice for all,” and we had won.

State and federal laws addressing violence against women start with the courage of survivors. The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA was no exception. There was significant leadership from our state. Our policy coordinator, Grace Huang worked practically full time drafting and analyzing the 800 pages of VAWA. All of you responded whenever we asked you to make calls. And when the bill failed to pass, you called again. And again. And again.

But in the end, there is one woman who made all the difference, and we honor her today.

At this time, I’d like to invite our Native sisters and brothers to join me on stage. We are fortunate to have here with us the woman whose courage, truth-telling, vision, and determination paved the way for the historic passage of the Violence Against Women Act. I am profoundly honored to introduce the Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribe, Deborah Parker.

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence recognizes Deborah Parker, Vice Chair of the Tulalip Tribe for your strength, courage and leadership.

“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory.” – President Barack Obama, March 7, 2013

Idle? Know More!

I’m going to call her Jennifer.

And I’m going to say she was raped last Thursday. Somewhere along the main road that divides Olympia and Lacey. Cops from the two towns arrive and set to arguing about who has to investigate. Then, an FBI agent arrives. More arguing. All three approach Jennifer. They tell her “We need to know the race of the assailant. This is important because, depending on your answer, it’s possible that none of us can help you.”The-Round-House_510x317

Improbable you say? Not so.

Though there is no Jennifer and this rape did not happen in my home town, something similar to this happens every day in Indian Country. This injustice is a national shame.

Dear reader—if you are a citizen of the United States, then your government is standing as an idle and mute witness to the abuse of Native women. We should no longer tolerate “jurisdiction” as the cause and the excuse.

It makes no sense that when a Native woman is raped or brutalized on tribal land by a non-Native man, tribal courts are forbidden from prosecuting him, and federal prosecutors don’t. Fact.

The release of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House could not have been more perfectly timed to wake us up to the profound horror and tragedy of this. This 2012 National Book Award winning novel sang to my heart. Maria Russo writes in her review in the New York Times “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel.”

Read it. But don’t weep!

Be inspired by Idle No More. Check out how this First Nations born movement out of Canada is spilling over into the U.S. and gathering momentum every day. Organized around sovereignty, the movement embraces environmental and social issues. This is very exciting.

And be inspired to act. Right now, we have an historic opportunity to fix the jurisdiction issues on tribal lands. Last year Congress failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) specifically because of the protections for Native women included in the bill! VAWA was just reintroduced this year in the Senate. Contact your representatives in Congress, and express your support for Native women in VAWA. Ask them where they stand. If they ignore you, ask them again. If they issue statements that make no sense to you, ask more questions. This is one time and place where those of us who are non-Native can be great allies to Native women. Join and BE idle no more!