WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has passed and sent to President Barack Obama a far-reaching extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
The vote comes after House Republican leaders, cognizant of the need to improve their faltering image among women voters, accepted a Senate bill passed two weeks ago on a strong bipartisan vote.
The House vote to reauthorize the 1994 law that has set the standard for anti-violence programs came after lawmakers rejected a more limited approach from Republicans.
The law lapsed in 2011 and has been caught up in the partisan battles that now divide Congress. Last year, the House refused to go along with a Senate-passed bill that would have made clear that lesbians, gays, immigrants and Native American women should have equal access to anti-violence programs.
NCAI Praises Passage of Protections for All Women; Tribal Courts Gain Jurisdiction over Non-Indian Domestic Violence Perpetrators
Bill represents major advance for public safety in Indian Country; Legislation headed to President for Signature
Washington, DC – Today, in a historic vote the House of Representatives passed S.47, the Senate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), sending the legislation with the tribal provisions supported by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. NCAI is praising the efforts of the House and the Senate to reauthorize VAWA and the bipartisan support of the Senate version of the legislation in both chambers with resounding votes of 286 - 138 in the House and 78-22 vote in the Senate earlier this month.
“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,” said Juana Majel Dixon, First Vice President of NCAI, and co-chair of NCAI’s Task Force on Violence Against Women. Juana Majel serves as a Traditional Councilwoman Pauma Band of Mission Indians located within the state of California. “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,” added Juana Majel.
“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,” said Jefferson Keel, the President of NCAI and Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, speaking about implementation of the new law. “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.”
The constitutionally sound tribal jurisdiction provisions in VAWA authorize tribal governments to prosecute non-Indian defendants involved in intimate relationships with Native women and who assault these victims on tribal land. Current federal laws do not authorize tribal law enforcement or tribal courts to pursue any form of prosecution or justice against these perpetrators.
“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,” said Terri Henry, Council Member at Eastern Cherokee and Co-Chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women spoke of the large collective effort that led to the passage of the Senate version of VAWA. “We really want to thank everyone for their hard work. Now we are going to use this tool to protect Native women from violence.”
"Women and men - Native and non-Native, Senators and Representatives from all backgrounds, and tribal leaders from across Indian Country have all spoken that these injustices must not continue. We intend to keep speaking from our heart and with the law by our side," added NCAI’s First Vice President Juana Majel Dixon. "We are thankful that there are strong leaders in both the House and Senate that have stood for the protections of Native women, regardless of party politics.”
“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,” said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of NCAI.
Findings show that 34% of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes* and 39% of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be subjected to violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes**. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46% of people living on reservations in 2010 were non-Natives (single race) and 59% of American Indian women in 2010 were married to non-Native men***.
The NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women was established in 2000 and has been working for thirteen years to protect the lives of Native American women and create more secure tribal communities.
* Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey.
** Centers for Disease Control. (2008). Adverse health conditions and health risk behaviors associated with intimate partner violence.
***US Census Bureau, Census 2010.
About The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI):
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit www.ncai.org