More than 300 tribal leaders from many of the 566 federally recognized tribes that were in attendance for the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference witnessed the day opening with an impassioned speech about violence against women in Indian country by Vice President Joe Biden.
The Tribal Nations Conference on December 3 brought together President Barack Obama, Biden and key secretaries from the Obama administration with tribal leaders to discuss ways to improve the government-to-government relationship.
“The most horrific prison on Earth is the four walls of an abused woman’s home,” Biden said. “For far too many Native American women that is a daily reality.”
Biden, who has been an integral piece in the fight against domestic violence as the original author of the Violence Against Women Act that was reauthorized with new provisions in 2013. The Vice President has been a steadfast supporter in the fight for the past 20 years, and was introduced at the Conference by Tulalip Tribal Councilwoman and VAWA advocate Deborah Parker.
“Vice President Biden has led the movement to protect women against rape and domestic violence. Last year he helped pass the much needed protection to help Native women from violence. Mr. Vice President, you are correct when you say no means no – no more abuse,” Parker said in her introduction.
In his speech, Biden apologized for the lengthy period of time that it took before tribal governments were given the tools to hold offenders, Native and now non-Native, accountable in their communities for domestic violence.
“As long as there is a single place where the abuse of power is excused as a question of jurisdiction or tolerated as a family affair, no one is truly safe, and we cannot define ourselves as a society that is civilized,” Biden said.
He continued with a call to action stating, “Tribal governments have an inherent right, as a matter of fact they have an obligation, to protect their people. All people deserve to live free of fear.”
Biden stressed to the tribal leaders in attendance the need to be prepared for March 7 – the date the law goes into effect. Biden talked about tribe’s new authority to be aggressive in their prosecution of domestic violence offenders in a move to change the culture and showing that violence against women is always unacceptable.
As much as VAWA will improve domestic violence conditions in tribal communities there is still much work that needs to be done as Biden pointed out. Biden acknowledge the need for Alaska tribes to be given the same authority along with expanding the provision to cover sexual assault and other crimes. Biden tasked Congress to appropriate the $25 million in grants authorized in VAWA 2013 to implement the new law.
Attorney General Eric Holder took to the podium after the Vice President and made major announcements of his own to add onto Biden’s push. Holder introduced the implementation of a Statement of Principles to guide the Department of Justice’s work with tribal nations going forward.