U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today participated in a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing examining the findings of a national report which revealed that Native youth experience violent crime at rates up to 10 times the national average and that one-third of Native American girls will be raped in their lifetimes.
Heitkamp discussed with the witnesses, including U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon who testified at the hearing, the specific steps in the report to enable better coordination between tribal and local law enforcement to protect Native families and improve criminal justice in Indian Country.
“We can’t allow Native youth to constantly battle high rates of violence and domestic abuse, and face fewer opportunities. A key way to change this course is to enable local and tribal governments to better work together while also giving tribal governments more flexibility to do their jobs,” said Heitkamp, a longtime advocate for Native communities. “This national report lays out concrete steps to achieve that goal to make Indian Country safer and more just. I have long stressed the importance of high-quality tribal court systems, state and tribal cooperation, and re-entry programs, and this report underscores how effective local solutions like these are. Now we need to make these reforms and you can bet I will make sure there is follow through on these recommendations.”
The Indian Law and Order Commission Report – issued by a commission created by Congress – released its report last November. The report recommends that tribes have stronger oversight over protecting Native families from violence to better enable them to seek criminal justice, which includes giving tribal police and courts more freedom and promoting coordination at a local level between Native and non-Native law enforcement – issues Heitkamp has long called to address. This report was compiled with by gathering the thoughts and opinions of Native Americans from across the country. Click here to read the full report.
This report, along with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which Heitkamp helped pass in 2013, is aimed at addressing incredibly high rates of violence in Indian Country. The statistics are stark:
—34 percent of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes;
—39 percent of Indian people will be subject to domestic violence;
—Violent crime rates across Indian country are twice the national average; and
—Indian children experience abuse at rates 50 percent higher than their non-native counterparts.
In addition to fighting tirelessly to pass VAWA, the first bill Heitkamp introduced as a Senator was also aimed at living up to our treaty and trust responsibilities to Indian country. Her widely supported, bipartisan legislation would create a national Commission on Native American Children to conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children, including exposure to high rates of violence and disproportionate representation in the justice system.