At a recent North Dakota state meeting, Spirit Lake Victim Assistance Director, Native Victim’s Assistance Program Director and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) advocate Melissa Merrick alleges that North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer verbally attacked her and another Native woman. After voicing concerns about issues affecting Indian country to include tribal provisions in VAWA, Merrick says Cramer went on a volatile verbal tirade aimed at her and tribal officials for approximately 20 minutes.
According to Merrick, the alleged statements made by Cramer included such remarks as ‘tribal governments were dysfunctional, a non-Native man could not get a fair trial on a reservation, the supreme court would hopefully overturn unconstitutional tribal provisions in the VAWA and that Cramer wanted to, “Ring the Tribal Council’s neck and slam them against the wall.”
The meeting, held on Tuesday March 26, 2013 was attended by two of North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s staff and North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer. The state officials were brought in to listen to concerns of several Directors of programs throughout North Dakota.
According to Merrick, though Senator Heitkamp’s staff was gracious, when North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer – who had spoken publicly against the constitutionality of the tribal provisions in VAWA, began to hear the concerns of Merrick he began to react.
“I thanked him for his support and proceeded with my concerns including how the Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program (TSASP) was taken out of the [Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation grant] that went out to tribes,” she said.
“After I spoke, Cramer began what turned out to be a roughly 20 minute verbal attack directed at me and all Native people. Cramer stated that he did vote yes on the Violence Against Women Act, but did not agree with the tribal provisions and that he was sure they would be overturned in the Supreme Court,” said Merrick in a statement.
After Merrick stated she herself was a survivor, Merrick alleges the Congressman said ‘tribal governments are dysfunctional. Tribal courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non-Native man get a fair trial on the reservations?”
According to Merrick, as the tension mounted in the room she began to grow uncomfortable and the other Native woman in the room came to tears. After Merrick expressed that there were positive changes in Indian country and that things are not going to happen overnight and people were working hard, Cramer again responded with volatility.
“Cramer stated that he wanted to ‘ring the tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall,” alleges Merrick. “This statement was made in front of a room full of people who are working to end violence. Again, he went on and on about how tribal governments are dysfunctional, and how unconstitutional the tribal provisions in VAWA are.
“The other directors began to get up and walk out of the room. He then said, ‘As a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now.’ I asked, “Why? What are you going to do?” says Merrick.
At the conclusion of the meeting Merrick said she and the other woman left visibly upset, and that Cramer had hugged the other woman without her permission and said, “I Love You.”
After the series of events that transpired at the meeting, Merrick responded in a letter in direct response to the actions of Congressman Cramer.
In an excerpt of the letter, Merrick stated the following:
Dear Congressman Cramer: It has been three days since we met, and I am still stunned and outraged by what we experienced. I have always believed that the job of an elected official is to listen to the concerns of constituents, treat them with basic respect, and help try to solve problems. Instead, we were treated rudely and disrespectfully, like an arrogant bully who was disgusted with the people he had to interact with and who had no understanding or interest in protecting women from violence.
You have attempted to backtrack and have gone as far as publicly questioning the accuracy of my statements. Let me state for the record, I stand by every word of it.
The disdain you expressed for our tribal leaders and your threats toward them left one woman in tears and revealed how little you care about the people you have been elected to serve, particularly female victims of violent acts.
Every day, we work to heal women and children who suffer from violence. I am proud of the work that I and my colleagues do. In your position as our Congressman, you are in a position to help tribal and non-tribal communities in North Dakota. My hope and prayer is that you will humble yourself in this leadership position rather than use your authority to divide our community.
In response to the allegations by Merrick, Congressman Cramer issued a statement:
I recently met with members of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services regarding the recent Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, and my passion concerning some of the problems I fear may exist with this legislation. Critics of this Act have expressed due process concerns in regard to some of its provisions. I therefore voted in favor of an amendment designed to address these problems. Unfortunately, my efforts were not supported by my Congressional colleagues. Because VAWA protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by streamlining grants, improving investigation, prosecution and victim services, as well as enhancing penalties against offenders, I voted in favor of this legislation.
I am quite open about my passion regarding helping those within our society that are exposed to violence. It is my understanding that certain statements I recently made regarding my frustrations with VAWA were misunderstood. This may have been the result of my tone and rhetoric, better suited for active debate in Congress rather than in addressing the protectors of our most vulnerable citizens. I apologize, and welcome future discussion to address my meaning, and to further our common cause.
I am encouraged by the considerable energy available to fix the serious, societal problem of violence (against all victims). It is my hope that improving lives is always our upmost focus.
Indian Country Today Media Network has attempted to obtain a direct response from the Congressman but has yet to receive a response to the inquiry.