North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer Verbally Attacks Native Victim’s Assistance Program Director at State Meeting, Threatens to Ring Spirit Lake Tribal Council’s Necks
By Melissa Merrick
I responded to him by telling him that I have my own opinions about the Tribe’s leaders, but what I could tell him again is about the positive things that have come out of the media crisis, like the reformation of the Child Protection Team, the Multi-Disciplinary Team, the Regional Social Services Coalition, and an Interagency committee- all which I am a part of.
I said, “I can tell you I know there is change, positive change. It’s not going to happen overnight but there are people working very hard.”
Cramer then stated that he wanted to “ring the Tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall.” This statement was made in front of a room full of people who are working to end violence. Again, he went on and on about how Tribal governments are dysfunctional, and how unconstitutional the Tribal provisions in VAWA are. At this point, the other Directors began to get up and walk out of the room. Cramer focused on how he thought a non-Native man would be treated unfairly in the Tribal Court.
Two radically different interpretations of what happened:
Rep. Cramer disputes account of 'tirade' during meeting with American Indians, but apologizes for tone
By Chuck Haga
Cramer said he was trying to explain why he had sought to “improve” the reauthorized act by addressing what he believes are constitutional flaws that are likely to bring court challenges, but that the manner of his presentation may have been inappropriate.
“We had a very frank discussion about my belief in equal protection under the law and due process,” he said. “I don’t want it (VAWA) overturned. I wanted to improve it so it doesn’t get overturned.
“I engaged in a discussion, or maybe I should say debate, that was probably more like a debate we’d have in Congress than with a group of people dedicated to helping women and children. I want to apologize to her for that.”
By Callie Beusman
No, you did not misread that. In the most hopelessly confusing, abject, and misguided rhetorical move ever made, Congressman Cramer became so enraged that a population disproportionately targeted with violent crime had been given a method to protect itself that he threatened their government officials with violence.
Furthermore, to speak at length about a tribal court being potentially unfair to white men is beyond hypocritical since, oh, I don't know, the American justice system imprisons people of color at a hideously disproportionate and egregiously unjust rate. The incarceration rate of Native American men is 38% higher than the national rate. In South Dakota, where Native Americans comprise 8% of the state's population, 22% of the male prison population and 35% percent of the female prison population is comprised of Native people. On average, Native Americans receive longer sentences and serve longer time in prison than non-Natives. It is absurd to act as though empowering Native people to prosecute crimes that affect them incommensurately is an affront to the justice system. The only thing that's threatened by the tribal provisions is white privilege.
He went on to say, "As a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now," even though the only people threatened by the tribal provisions are THOSE WHO COMMIT VIOLENT SEX CRIMES AGAINST NATIVE WOMEN (although, to be fair, he had just violently threatened the tribal council, so perhaps it makes sense that he felt uneasy with the court's new authority over a very specific subset of crimes).
Spirit Lake Nation Official Response to Kevin Cramer (ND Congressman)
The landmark legislation reaffirms the inherent right of Indian tribes to protect their members with respect to crimes involving domestic violence. Until this legislation was enacted tribes could not exercise authority to prosecute domestic violence cases within their borders, which meant that the majority of offenses went unpunished. The Tribal provisions of VAWA amend the Indian Civil Rights Act and contain strong provisions that recognize and acknowledge that the powers of self-government of Indian tribes includes the power to exercise domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over all persons, including non-Indians who commit acts of domestic violence on Indian lands and have ties to Indian country (live or work on Indian lands or who marry or are intimate partners or dating partners of tribal members or Native Americans who live on Indian lands). Tribes are also given express authority under VAWA to issue and enforce protection orders.
Moreover, the Act includes safeguards that address the concerns the Congressmen expressed with regard to due process. The Act requires Indian tribes to have adequate safeguards to protect a defendant’s rights, consistent with the Indian Civil Rights Act (lCRA), and to demonstrate the presence of those safeguards to the Attorney General. In sum, tribal provisions of the VAWA provide the best solution to the rampant number of domestic violence and sexual assault acts on tribal lands while also maintaining defendant rights in tribal courts.
In addition, to his misinformed comments about the VAWA, Congressmen Cramer reportedly stated his belief that Tribal governments are dysfunctional and that he wanted to “ring the [Spirit Lake] Tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall.” The Tribe takes these threats of violence seriously and finds them particularly inappropriate given the audience Congressmen Cramer was addressing. A threat of violence is exactly the wrong way to send a message. His comments are beneath the dignity of his office and the relationship that his government has with the first Nations of this country, who are among his constituents. The Tribe is concerned that the Congressmen’s intemperate statements reflect his negative views of his Tribal constituents as a whole.
I am writing in “great concern,” about statements ‘you’ had made at the North Dakota Council on Abused women Services which was held on Tuesday, March 26, 2013.
The statements that were made were not only derogatory but lack effective leadership qualities that people of North Dakota and Tribes believe you divulged during your campaign.
In reference to, “Tribal Governments are dysfunctional. Tribal Courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non-Native man get a fair trial on the reservations?,” lacks a complete misinterpretation and lack of knowledge of day to day activities that occur within mine or other tribal chambers. We, as tribal leaders, as a sovereign nation, must protect the humanitarian, safety and quality of life for every tribal member that resides on and off the reservation. It is not only in our constitution but it is also in the North Dakota Constitution and United States Constitution. You have stated that a non-native person would not get a “fair trial” on the reservation, it is my understanding that tribal courts are granted “full faith and credit to make judgments issued within their courts.”
Finally, the woman who first reported the contretemps responds to Cramer's self-defense:
Release from Melissa Merrick in response to Congressman Kevin Cramer
I read in the paper that you want to apologize for the “tone” and “style” of your comments. This is very disappointing to me and to my colleagues that fight to protect women from violence in our community. You should be sorry for your words and take responsibility for them.
You have attempted to backtrack and have gone as far as publicly questioning the accuracy of my statements in the Last Real Indians. Let me state for the record, I stand by every word of it.
You clearly have zero interest in protecting women from violence and have not read the tribal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act, particularly the part about the protections non-Indian defendants are guaranteed in tribal court. Your ignorant prejudices about tribal people are not only untrue, but fan the flames of racial divide, the exact opposite of what leaders do to make communities stronger. The disdain you expressed for our tribal leaders and your threats toward them left one woman in tears and revealed how little you care about the people you have been elected to serve, particularly female victims of violent acts.
For more on VAWA, see Tribal Courts "Don't Inspire Confidence"? and VAWA Passes Over Conservative Objections.