While congressional lawmakers in Washington are trying to strip the Violence Against Women Act of its protections for indigenous women, indigenous delegations at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York are calling for an end to violence against indigenous women and girls.
The Republican-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted 17-15 on May 8 to remove the protections for Native American women from the VAWA reauthorization legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in late April, with only Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, crossing party lines to join the Democrats to vote against it. A substitute amendment from Ranking Member John Conyers, D-Mich. that would have protected tribal sections of the Senate bill was denied consideration by the committee’s majority. Other amendments meant to strengthen the legislation were also defeated. During the hearing, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. stood up in support of Native women rights and offered an amendment that would have restored the critical tribal criminal jurisdictional provisions in the bipartisan Senate bill but was forced to withdraw due to threats from party members.
Meanwhile, at the Permanent Forum, which is taking place May 7-18, multiple nongovernmental organizations and delegations are calling for further study of the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD), particularly as its inherent themes of racist and religious superiority have resulted in dominance and dehumanization of indigenous women. The Doctrine of Discovery – the special them of this year’s Permanent forum – developed from 15th century papal bulls and royal charters of European monarchs that gave European Christians the right to invade, claim and colonize the lands and their resources “discovered” by their explorers if no Christians lived on the lands. If the “pagan” inhabitant converted to Christianity, they might be allowed to live; otherwise they could be killed or enslaved. The Doctrine morphed into an interpretative framework of dominance that became embedded and institutionalized in law and policy both in the United States and internationally.
On the same day the congressional finance committee stripped the protective provisions from VAWA. Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus (GIWC), which had held a planning session May 4, prior to the opening of the Permanent Forum, presented its statement calling on the international body to further study of the Doctrine, focusing on the way its inherent endorsement of dominance and dehumanization continues to impact indigenous women today.
The statement urges the Permanent Forum to adopt recommendations in the Conference Room Paper on the Doctrine of Discovery presented by the Haudenosaunee, the American Indian Law Alliance and the Indigenous Law Institute and “to particularly use gender analysis” in further international study of the DoD focusing on:
- its impacts on dominance and dehumanization of Indigenous Peoples based on legal principles and doctrines;
- Its effects on Indigenous Peoples’ health; human and collective rights; and titles to lands, resources and medicines;
- Its effects on the displacement of Indigenous women from leadership and decision-making roles through the imposition of patriarchal norms and expectations that replaced traditional forms of self-governance;
- the relationship between the DoD and violence against Indigenous women and children, the removal of children from their families by states, environmental violence, and reproductive health, higher rates of youth suicide;
- its continued impacts on global economic arrangements and policies and how they relate to migration/border issues and result in the separation of families and the violation of individual human and collective indigenous rights.
The GIWC called the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to highlight states laws and domestic policies that are rooted in the DoD and create the conditions for violence against Indigenous women. The Women’s Caucus points as an example to the inability of tribes to prosecute those committing violence against women on sovereign tribal lands because of U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe. In The Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women in the U.S, a groundbreaking indictment of the federal government’s neglect of Indigenous women, Amnesty International reported that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s own statistics, at least 86 percent of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women are committed by non-Native men. “It appears that Indigenous women in the USA may be targeted for acts of violence and denied access to justice on the basis of their gender and Indigenous identity,” the report says. The root causes of discrimination and violence are often complex and invariably interconnected, the report says. Other factors which can also have a significant impact include the poverty and socioeconomic marginalization which many Indigenous women experience. Indigenous women described to Amnesty International how they experience contemporary sexual violence as a legacy of impunity for past atrocities.”
The GIWC also endorsed the 2nd Declaration for Health, Life and Defense of Our Lands, Rights and Future Generations, a report that resulted from a meeting held April 27-29, 2012 in Chickaloon Village, Alaska, and continued the work of the International Indigenous Women’s Environmental and Reproductive Health Symposium. The first “Declaration for Health was accepted at last year’s Permanent Forum. The declarations recommended that international U.N. bodies focus attention and collect information from Indigenous Peoples on the links between environmental contamination and reproductive health and justice.