American Indian women had their voices heard today as the U.S. House passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act with the U.S. Senate provisions allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who commit violence against women and families on Indian lands. The bill passed with a vote of 286 – 138 and awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.
As news spread throughout Indian country and federal government offices many shared their reactions to this historic bill. Below are the first statements received and Indian Country Today Media Network will continue to share them as we receive them.
President Barack Obama: “I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community. The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice. I want to thank leaders from both parties – especially Leader [Nancy] Pelosi, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Senator [Patrick] Leahy – for everything they’ve done to make this happen. Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”
Juana Majel Dixon, First Vice President of NCAI, co-chair of NCAI’s Task Force on Violence Against Women and Traditional Councilwoman Pauma Band of Mission Indians: “It is with a glad heart and soaring spirit that I celebrate the passage of VAWA. Today the drum of justice beats loud in Indian country in celebration of the reauthorization of VAWA and we stand in unity with all of our partners and leaders who were unrelenting in support of protections for all women, including Native women. 500 plus days is too long to not have a bill for all women in America. For an unimaginable length of time those who have terrorized our women in our most sacred places, in our relationships, in our homes, and on our land, have gone unprosecuted. Now that time has come to an end and justice and security will flourish in these specific instances. We celebrate the protections for all women included in VAWA, including those for immigrant and LGBT women.”
Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI and Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation: “With this authority, comes a serious responsibility and tribal courts will administer justice with the same level of impartiality that any defendant is afforded in state and federal courts. We have strong tribal courts systems that protect public safety. The law respects tribal sovereignty, and also requires that our courts respect the due process rights of all defendants. My hope is that this new law is rarely used. Our goal isn’t to put people in jail. It is to create an effective deterrent so that our people can lead safe lives in our communities and nations.”
Terri Henry, Council Member at Eastern Cherokee and Co-Chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women: “There were at least five things that came together: an enormous grassroots effort from Indian country; the coalition of the National Task Force to End Domestic Violence; statistics so we could finally show the problem; steadfast leadership from the Department of Justice; and incredible support from so many Members of Congress both Republicans and Democrats. We really want to thank everyone for their hard work. Now we are going to use this tool to protect Native women from violence.”
Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of NCAI: “Today marks not the end of our efforts at NCAI to combat domestic violence issues that Indian country faces but an important step along the way. We will remain as dedicated as we have been since we began addressing this issue as an organization. There have been many members of Congress who have stood with tribal nations throughout this effort and they have stayed true to the constitution, to the trust responsibility, and to the truth that tribal nations are the best to address our situations at the local level. Today we advance the protections tribal nations can provide all people, Native and non-Native.”
Attorney General Eric Holder: “I am pleased that Congress has voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark law that has transformed the way we respond to domestic and sexual violence. This reauthorization includes crucial new provisions to improve our ability to bring hope and healing to the victims of these crimes, expand access to justice, and strengthen the prosecutorial and enforcement tools available to hold perpetrators accountable.
“Congress has also taken an historic step to finally close the loophole that left many Native American women without adequate protection. With this bill, tribes and the federal government can better work together to address domestic violence against Native American women, who experience the highest rates of assault in the United States. The bill also provides funding to improve the criminal justice response to sexual assault, ensuring that victims can access the services they need to heal. And it will help to build on evidence-based practices for reducing domestic violence homicides and prevent violence against our nation’s children, teens, and young adults.
“I applaud Congress for passing a bipartisan reauthorization that protects everyone – women and men, gay and straight, children and adults of all races, ethnicities, countries of origin, and tribal affiliations. The Department of Justice looks forward to implementing this historic legislation after it is signed into law.”
Jana Walker, senior attorney and director of the Indian Law Resource Center’s Safe Women, Strong Nations project: “This bill is a major stride forward in fixing longstanding jurisdictional gaps in United States law that threaten the safety and lives of Native women, violate their human rights daily, and allow perpetrators of crimes on tribal lands to evade prosecution. We hope that today’s vote will help end the epidemic levels of violence against Native women in Indian country and lead to justice for all victims, including Native women who are among the most vulnerable in this country.”