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Native American women and the Violence Against Women Act

On Behalf of | Mar 4, 2013 | Domestic Violence

The congressional reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is a whopping 218 pages in length. It has passed the Senate and is heartily endorsed by President Obama. The legislation targets the scourge of domestic violence that exists in every state, including Florida.

The bill is, unfortunately, now languishing in the House of Representatives, based on a single issue that has been called “the last remaining controversy” stalling the legislation.

This issue is, indeed, somewhat obscure. Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has termed it “a jurisdictional loophole,” with others saying that it is denigrating the rights and dignity of a particular group of Americans.

Namely, those are Native American women, who are caught up in this Catch-22: A Native American woman who suffers an act of domestic abuse or other violence committed by a non-Indian on tribal land cannot seek recourse from tribal police, given a longstanding judicial view that non-Indian defendants cannot be guaranteed the same rights in tribal courts that they have via the Constitution and under the Bill of Rights. Conversely, local police departments typically cannot respond to such a claim either, because they would be intruding on tribal land and sovereignty.

That situation needs to change, say anti-abuse advocates across the country, and now. Native American women, they note, are raped and assaulted at a comparatively high rate. They “should not be abandoned” by a congressional inability to reach legislative agreement, says Udall.

An executive with the National Congress of American Indians says that tribes have tried to dampen congressional fears by expanding court financing, providing for counsel and ensuring that non-Indian defendants face mixed juries of Indian and non-Indian peers. Other ideas have included offering non-Indian defendants the right to appeal a case following conviction to a federal court.

In the meantime, debate is ongoing in the House.

Source: New York Times, “Measure to protect women stuck on tribal land issue,” Jonathan Weisman, Feb. 10, 2013