Roughly 200 Indians from various Southern California Indian tribes held a walk to increase awareness of sexual assault against Native women and to show support for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that Congress has allowed to expire for the first time in more than 15 years, according to a press release from the Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition and the La Jolla Band of Indians Avellaka Program.
The act is expected to hit the senate floor this week. In the past, the legislation has had strong bi-partisan support. Enacted in 1994, the act was subsequently reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 by unanimous consent of Congress.
“We are walking today to raise our voices to members of Congress to support this life-saving legislation,” said Juana Majel, the first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, while speaking to those gathered at the walk. “We send our heartfelt appreciation to our California Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer for their defense of the Violence Against Women Act and provisions to protect Native women.”
Tribal leaders at the event expressed outrage that some senators do not support the bill to reauthorize the act. The legislation is crucial to tribal members, because it contains provisions intended to address the epidemic levels of violence committed against American Indian women.
One provision of the bill recognizes the authority of Indian tribes to investigate and prosecute misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, and orders of protection that occur in Indian country. It would not alter the current criminal jurisdiction of the federal or a state government.
“Right now tribes have no authority over an abuser that is a non-Indian even when he lives on tribal land, works for the tribe, and beats or rapes his wife or girlfriend on tribal lands,” said Wendy Schlater, program director for the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians Avellaka Program. “These perpetrators commit these crimes on tribal land knowing nothing will happen.”
According to S.1925, the tribe must prove that any defendant being prosecuted under Section 904 either: resides in the Indian country of the prosecuting tribe, is employed in the Indian country of the prosecuting tribe, or is either the spouse or intimate partner of a member of the prosecuting tribe. “Abusers who live, work, or date tribal women on tribal land should not be allowed to abuse them just because they are of another race. The law leaves Native women wondering not “if” they will be raped, but “when they will be raped,” said LaVonne Peck, the tribal chair of the La Jolla Band.
“It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Justice that 1 of 3 Native women will be raped in their life time and that 5 of 6 will be the victims of domestic violence. This is more than double that of any other population of women. It is unacceptable and must stop,” said Laurie Gonzalez, councilwoman of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians.