Reactions continue to arrive following the House passing of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization on February 28, complete with the tribal provisions recently included in the U.S. Senate version of the bill that passed in early February. The next step for the bill is to be signed by President Barak Obama who has stated, “I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”
Below are more comments from Indian country and federal government officials:
Brian Patterson, President United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.: “On this day, the hard work of advocates from across Indian country, such as the Task Force on Violence Against Women, including Terri Henry, Tribal Council member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Tulalip Vice-Chairwoman Deborah Parker, Pauma Tribal Legislative Councilwoman Juana Majel Dixon, and countless others, backed by Tribal governments and an all-important grass roots effort, came to fruition with passage of S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. This legislation contains important tribal provisions, including a critically needed provision restoring inherent tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for certain domestic violence offenses.
“On this day, there are songs across our lands, rising to the Creator, and drums beating in honor of the strong hearts of our women. I was taught that ‘no nation is truly defeated until the hearts of its women are on the ground.’ On this day, our women are stronger because they have a greater potential to defend themselves with justice that they have been denied.
“On this day, our dream that our children can have the ability to live and grow up in a safe place, with loving adults, and create safe and healthy families of their own is strengthened and made more possible for many in our communities.
“On this day, we saw the power of Indian country working in unity to achieve something that many declared impossible and unrealistic. There truly is strength in unity! Together we have worked to make this possible, to strengthen Indian country, so that we may transcend the challenges of violence and a lack of justice for our people. Together, Stronger, Transcending.
“On this day, the Federal government lived up to its trust responsibility. The Congress has passed, and the President will soon sign, legislation that will truly empower tribal governments to advance the safety of their communities. The Federal government has recognized a key aspect of inherent tribal sovereignty, which is the right to prosecute crime on our lands no matter who the perpetrator is. In 1978, in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the Supreme Court held that Congress, over time, had prohibited tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians, but now that has changed. In the modern history of Indian nations, this day will forever stand out as a turning point, both in our struggle to protect our women and in our relationship with the United States.
“On this day, we begin a new challenge, which is to take this authority and wield it with wisdom and justice.”
Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA): “Violence against any woman anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. No woman in America should feel unsafe living her daily life, including women on college campuses and women in Native American, immigrant, and LGBT communities. I’m glad we were able to secure the votes for a strong and inclusive Violence Against Women Act that leaves no victim of domestic abuse behind.
“For much of American history, reporting domestic abuse and rape was stigmatized and prosecutions were rare, and women suffered silently for it. With [yesterday’s] vote, I hope we have definitively turned the page and that all women and men alike are empowered to speak out against and condemn all forms of abuse against women. Real men respect women, and just nations aggressively prosecute those who violate women. We must work together to ensure that no woman is a victim of rape or domestic abuse.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker: “Passing the Violence Against Women Act was a top priority for the Cherokee Nation this legislative session. I commend the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the Senate’s language, including the tribal provisions. This legislation will give tribal sovereign nations the capacity to better protect our people from violent offenders. It was the right thing to do for Native women, and it was the right time to expand tribal authority to prosecute these terrible crimes. I especially want to thank Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole for his work to include Native victims in this legislation. As a tribal citizen, he truly understands how critical it is to close the jurisdictional gaps in our law and legal systems.”
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree: “The Cherokee Nation is very pleased that Congress has passed this important piece of legislation. Not only does this act affirm our commitment to protect women, tribal or non-tribal, regardless of where they may be, equally as important, it reaffirms and expands tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction over non-tribal citizens who commit such heinous acts.”
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar: “By providing stronger protections and greater resources to states and Indian tribes, this legislation will make women and vulnerable populations safer. This legislation is especially significant for the First Americans because it closes a gaping legal loophole that prevented the arrest and prosecution of non-Indian men who commit domestic violence against Indian women on federal Indian lands. This historic legislation, which recognizes and affirms inherent tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases, will provide much needed tools to tribal justice systems to effectively protect Indian women from abuse.”
Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn: "American Indian women experience among the highest domestic violence victimization rates in the country and more than half of all married Indian women have non-Indian husbands. This legislation provides tools to tribal governments to address the problem of domestic violence much more completely on Indian reservations.
“I applaud Congress’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act [yesterday]. Tribal leaders, tribal law enforcement, and tribal courts are all too familiar with this type of violence. It is shameful that for far too long, many American Indian women victims came to accept that there was nothing they could do when their abuser was non-Indian. Now, tribal courts have the ability to enforce protection orders again non-Indians, regardless of where the order originated, and to prosecute any individual who stands accused of domestic violence on a federal Indian reservation. American Indian women are now safer with the passage of this law.”
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly: “[Yesterday was] a historic day and I commend the House of Representatives for taking a stand to protect all women from crimes of domestic violence. Women should not have to live in fear of violent acts of crime. This bill gives tribal nations the tools to protect Native women. We thank those who advocated vigorously on this important piece of legislation.
“The Navajo Nation, like any government, should have the right to protect its people. I am encouraged by the bold leadership of our congressional Representatives [yesterday] in protecting our sovereign rights.”