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Congress reauthorizes anti-violence act

WASHINGTON -- Congress has passed stronger legislation protecting Native
women in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The House of Representatives and the Senate voted with overwhelming support
Dec. 17 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act while adding for the
first time a tribal title that increases the resources available to tribal
governments to combat the abuse of Native women.

For tribes, the tribal title is a historic piece of legislation. In the
bill, Congress acknowledged that the federal government's trust
responsibility creates an obligation to assist tribal governments in
protecting Indian women. It further reaffirms tribal sovereignty in
allowing tribes to strengthen their own legal remedies against offenders.
The bill now goes to President Bush for a signature.

Originally passed in 1994, VAWA created the first federal legislation
acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assaults as crimes, providing
federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses to combat
the violence. Its reauthorization in 2000 improved the foundation
established in 1994 by creating a much-needed legal assistance program for
victims and expanding the definition of crime to cover dating violence and
stalking.

"VAWA contains provisions and support for jurisdictions to address crimes
of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. The
reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act provides for the
additional enhancement of programming and support to American Indian and
Alaska Native women through the establishment of Title IX 'Safety for
Indian Women,' the historic recognition by the federal government of the
perpetration of violence against Indian women," said Terry Henry, director
of the Department of Public Safety for the Eastern Band of Cherokee
Indians.

"The purpose of this title is to decrease the incidence of violent crimes
against Indian women, strengthen the capacity of Indian tribes to exercise
their sovereign authority to respond to violent crimes committed against
Indian women and to ensure that perpetrators of violent crimes committed
against Indian women are held accountable for their criminal behavior,"
Henry said.

Native leaders from the National Congress of American Indians worked
diligently on the language of the tribal provision carefully making sure
tribes would have sovereignty in tapping legal remedies for domestic
violence and sexual abuse as well as increasing monetary resources directed
at education, prevention and assisting victims.

NCAI President Joe Garcia said: "The passage of this life-saving
legislation has been a top priority of NCAI and I commend congressional
leaders and the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women for all of the
work they have done to make this a reality."

The tribal provisions included in VAWA 2005 constitute a vital and historic
step toward giving tribal governments the tools they need to protect Indian
women.

"Statistics clearly show a deeply rooted problem in protecting women in
Indian country, and this legislation will give tribal governments the tools
they need to protect our women, whom our cultures hold in very high
esteem," Garcia said.

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NCAI Recording Secretary Juana Majel said, "VAWA 2005 recognizes the
sovereign authority of Indian tribes to respond to violent crimes committed
against Indian women. Respect, not violence, is a fundamental belief that
Native peoples have upheld from our very beginnings as nations.

"Lifting the prior restrictions placed upon grants allows tribal
governments to turn to this inner strength, the beliefs and practices that
held women sacred," Majel said.

NCAI Executive Director Jackie Johnson said, "I am very pleased that
Congress has formalized the mechanism for effectuating the
government-to-government relationship with the Department of Justice by
calling on the department to conduct annual consultations with tribal
governments and creating a deputy director for tribal affairs in the Office
on Violence Against Women.

"NCAI looks forward to working with the OVW to implement the new tribal
provisions included in VAWA 2005," she said.

Edward Reina, director of public safety for the Tohono O'odham Nation,
said, "VAWA 2005 requires the attorney general to permit Indian law
enforcement agencies, in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and
stalking, to enter information into the federal criminal information
databases and to obtain information from the databases.

"This change enhances our efforts to include tribal police in the national
criminal information sharing system. It will increase safety for Indian
women and also safety for tribal law enforcement officers," said Reina.

According to Justice Department statistics, American Indian women are at
high risk of homicide, with homicide being the third leading cause of death
for Native women. Of Native women murdered, more than 75 percent were
killed by a family member, acquaintance or someone they knew.

Seventy percent of American Indians who are the victims of violent crimes
are victimized by someone of a different race.

In drafting the new legislation, Congress also found that one out of every
three Indian and Alaska Native women are raped in their lifetime and
experience the violent crime of battery at a rate of 23.2 per 1,000,
compared with 8 per 1,000 among Caucasian women.

For more information about violence against Indian women or VAWA, visit
www.ncai.org or www.sacred-circle.com.

Kay Humphrey is a public awareness advocate for Sacred Circle National
Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women.