Bill represents major advance for public safety in Indian Country; Legislation headed to President for Signature
“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.
By Rob Capriccioso
To tribal and Native American advocates who have spent many long days and nights working through bleeding heels, seasonal sicknesses, and missed holidays with loved ones, the vote represented the end of a journey that sometimes seemed impossible.
“I’m so excited—this is overwhelming,” cried Deborah Parker, vice-chair of the Tulalip Tribes, who was out of breath and in tears immediately after the House passage.
Parker’s daze was understandable. Still catching her breath, she noted that some legal experts have said that there hasn’t been major tribal legislation that grants inherent tribal authority since the historic days of treaty times. “We’ve had other successes,” she said, “but this will have a substantial impact on our sovereign ability to govern.”