It’s an outlandish statement- and it’s political poison that will seep into many political races for years to come.  The United States Senate has voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act.  I mean sure - who wouldn’t?

22 Senators to be precise.

Something didn’t quite seem right.  Before it even moves on to the House, I figured I needed to know why these Senators (all Republicans) chose to grab this lightning rod. The Republican Party certainly had a heck of a time zeroing in on female voter support in 2012.  So what’s the opposition? As it’s the first piece of legislation that Freshman North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp co-sponsored- let’s start there.  Senator Heitkamp says there are two reasons she believes the bill could get held up in the House.

"Number one is the provisions for Native Americans which mean that all women on the reservation would be protected regardless of who the perpetrator is. We gave tribal courts jurisdiction, a lot of people think that`s unconstitutional. I don`t think they understand tribal sovereignty."

She says the other reason is a section that includes members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered community. Heitkamp says it's important these provisions stay in the bill to protect all victims of domestic violence.

iStockphoto

So opposition seems to get the majority of it’s traction with the resistance to tribal jurisdiction.  Proponents of the bill say this closes a loophole that allows non-Native American men to abuse Indian women with impunity. But critics say the tribal courts are under resourced and have a history of failing to provide adequate legal protections to defendants.

According to a story submitted by KFYR-TV, the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Minot sees about 2,000 clients per year, most of them being Native American. This from Dena Filler, DVCC Executive Director:

“It gives us so many laws that protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and that whole issue. With the changes that have come through this legislation and have made many changes that are very positive that keeps victims safer and makes offenders more accountable."

Why do tribal courts need to prosecute non-Native rapists and sexual offenders?  Shouldn’t we simply leave that to the federal and state prosecutors?  According to the Indian Country Today Media Network,  Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be assaulted—and more than twice as likely to be stalked than other women in the United States. Further ICTMN submits that it would be "foolhardy to rely upon US prosecutors to protect Native women. Indeed, US attorneys decline to prosecute some 67 percent of sexual abuse matters referred to them.”

iStockphoto

 

It seems many shudder at the notion of a non-Native American citizen facing justice in a Native American court.  With nearly 8 percent of the current student body of Bismarck/ Mandan public schools being Native American descent- I believe we owe our mothers, our daughters, and our neighbors the same measure of protection and prosecution we demand ourselves.

photos.com

Clearly the opponents of the Violence Against Women Act do in no way support domestic abuse.  Yet it seems issues of race and sexual preference threaten to block legislation that could significantly decrease violence across the Nation- including our Native American Nations. So after just having scratched the surface of this subject, I invite you to investigate more on your own and watch the VAWAs progress through the House of Representatives.  The discussion can continue right here- your comments are appreciated.