[ View the story "Justice denied for Native American women" on Storify] Justice denied for Native American women Can legislation help end violence against indigenous women in the US?
Storified by The Stream · Tue, Sep 18 2012 13:47:37
On September 5,
Lauren Chief Elk
published an article for the Women Under Siege project
what she considers a "hidden epidemic": the prevalent problem of sexualised violence directed towards Native American and Alaska Native women.
The video below from Native sketch group
lays out the most prominent statistics:
Three Little Indiansthe1491s
to the 2010 US Census, there were approximately 5.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States. Of those, 78 per cent live outside of native lands, 20.5 per cent live on reservations or trust lands, and 1.5 per cent live on Alaska Native Village areas.
These populations belong to 566 federally
tribes. These tribes maintain "a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government", often in the form of tribal councils.
US Census BureauAJstream
According to the US Department of Justice, in 86 per cent of cases of rape or sexual assault reported by Native women, the perpetrators are described as non-Native men. Under a 1978 US
, Native tribes have no authority to prosecute non-Native people, rendering tribal courts unable to try and prosecute offenders in these cases. For offenders who are Native American, tribal courts are often restricted with limited sentencing power.
In a video comment for The Stream,
explains how these laws limit the authority of tribal governments:
Native American Women and Sexual Violencekiran31088
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which was meant to streamline efforts between Indian Health Services, the Department of Justice, Native tribes and tribal organisations to standardise sexual assault policies. The act also contained provisions intended to strengthen tribal governments, giving them authority to prosecute federal crimes.
Signing the Tribal Law and Order Actwhitehouse
At the time the TLOA was lauded as a step forward for tribal governments. However, under the act, tribes are required to meet certain governmental standards in order to begin prosecuting federal crimes. A 2012
from the US Government Accountability Office found that none of the tribes surveyed in the report were excercising their new sentencing authority and most cited funding limitations.
And although certain
of Native land do fall under US state jurisdiction, most filed cases involving violence against Native women are
before reaching a formal hearing. Similarly, US state and local law enforcement have checkered records of investigating reports of sexualised violence. From a 2006
of the Duluth, Minnesota police department:
The audit found problems with the systemic response to Native women who report sexual assault to the Duluth Police Department (DPD) from evidence collection to investigation to prosecution. The audit team reviewed approximately 35 police reports from the DPD. The manner in which they were investigated by patrol was highly inconsistent, few received follow-up contact from investigators and none resulted in prosecution.
In 2007, Amnesty International
an investigative report which contributes the staggering statistics of violence against Native women to "a maze" of tribal, state and federal laws.
Below, Larry Cox, then executive director of Amnesty International, speaks at the release of the report:
Survivor of violencemilotube
This year, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
the violence against Native women a human rights "crisis" and legal access for Natives in the US as an "unworkable and discriminatory race-based system".
A letter from the US Department of Justice, written by US Attorney Deborah R. Gilg, underscored the UN statement:
Domestic violence, which includes assault, manslaughter, and murder, is so pervasive, intrusive, demoralizing and destructive to the fabric of our Native American communities, that it is one of our most challenging human rights issues. It is the right of every Native American woman to be free of fear, to be free of violence and to be free of ever having to be a victim.USDOJ: Executive Office for United States Attorneys
Many are calling to address the crisis through US legislation, namely through revision and reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In April, the Senate passed a reauthorisation of VAWA that added provisions to protect certain groups, including one that would
tribal governments criminal jurisdiction over non-Native American citizens who commit crimes of domestic and sexual violence or other crimes against tribal code.
Below, Diane Millich, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Colorado, speaks to the
Indian Law and Resource Center
about the VAWA provisions intended to give legal recourse to Native women.
The provisions were celebrated by members of the Native community and survivors of sexual violence:
Women Senators, Tribal Leader Discuss Importance of VAWA Improvementssenatorpattymurray
However, in May the US House of Representatives passed a different
of the bill that leaves out these provisions. Their bill must now pass through the US Senate, and many Native women have spoken out in favor of the Senate's version of VAWA reauthorisation, which they consider to be more inclusive.
Pass the Violence Against Women Act & Safe Native Women's Act (VAWA PSA)buffalopowered
We can’t afford to leave millions of Native American women, immigrants, #LGBT & college women out of #VAWA’s protections. #RealVAWASen. Barbara Boxer
In addition to lobbying for legislative change, Native organisations are using film, photography, and social media to advocate for change in their communities.
The video below, directed by Thomas Ryan Red Corn in cooperation with the ILRC,
Buffalo Nickel Creative
, and the 1491s sends a message "to the indigenous woman" as well as her tribal community and the US government.
To The Indigenous Woman Long Format, Poem by 1491sindianlaw1978
Twitter user @MsEntropy expressed a similar sentiment to The Stream:
much of the problem fighting violence against First Nations women in the States comes down to invisibility.Ms. Entropy
w/o more pressure in public eye, other factors like educational reform, addiction and public health on reservations also ignoredMs. Entropy
Groups like the 1491s and the
Save Wiyabi Project
seek to bring visibility to indigenous men and women who are speaking against sexualised violence happening in their communities.