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Fighting violence against women

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Native women leaders are calling for continued funding
and stronger options for prosecuting non-Indian offenders in Indian country
as part of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, an update of the
original federal act passed in 1994.

The act will expand funding for existing tribal programs and shelters and
provide resources for the development of new programs. Included in the new
programs would be services for women over 50, women with disabilities,
funding for rape crisis centers, training for health care workers to
recognize and respond to assault situations and the creation of housing
solutions for survivors.

"Violence against women is not traditional to Native cultures," said Karen
Artichoker, director of the Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End
Violence Against Native Women. "Recognizing the sovereignty of Indian
nations will increase safety of women and create stable communities free of
violence."

Tribal leaders who attended the National Congress of American Indians'
mid-year conference in Green Bay June 12 - 15 supported the VAWA. NCAI
President Tex Hall said educating tribal members of the law's importance is
just one of the goals of the conference and supported the efforts of a task
force devoted to ending domestic violence.

Tribal leaders are recognizing that Indigenous women experience domestic
violence at a rate higher than any other group in the United States. One in
four women nationwide will experience at least one physical assault by a
partner, one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped
during their lifetimes, and six in 10 will be assaulted. Indian women are
stalked at twice the rate of any other population, said Juana Majel-Dixon,
chairman of National Congress of American Indians' Task Force to End
Violence Against Indian Women.

More than 75 percent of assaults against Indian women are committed by
non-Indian perpetrators. However, tribes have no jurisdiction over
non-Indians and must depend on the U.S. Attorney's offices to prosecute
non-Indian offenders.

Native leaders understand the need for improved response by law enforcement
and tribal judicial systems in addressing a jurisdictional divide that
allows offenders to continue. "We speak now in a unified voice because the
programs in VAWA expire on Sept. 30," Majel-Dixon said. "Allowing VAWA to
expire would send a devastating message to American Indian and Alaska
Native women and a green light to perpetrators of violent crimes,"
Majel-Dixon said.

The impact of VAWA was powerful as Indian tribes were finally given the
tools to assist women and children and hold perpetrators accountable, said
Artichoker. "The increase in resources [is] needed today to build on the
last 10 years of work. The impact of the resources can be seen in our
communities. We expect even more dynamic work to take place with the
reauthorization of VAWA," she said.

The act has a long history of women advocating for shelters through
grassroots efforts while organizing momentum in Washington, D.C. to pass
the legislation that provided funding for shelters and programs. Native
women lead the effort by establishing coalitions while they continued to
fight a daily battle to keep shelter doors open.

Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first female president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe,
echoed the comments of many Native advocates who said the resources of the
1994 act were vital to Indian country in sustaining existing domestic
violence shelters and expanding efforts. "The reauthorization gives
credibility to the work. The set-aside for Indian tribes is a victory that
was accomplished by the voices of many Native women in Indian county who
gained the sophistication to use the existing process. It took many years
of front line work to understand how to accomplish this," Fire Thunder
said.

"We need to applaud those front-line Native women workers who were able to
get this as far as it has come. It didn't happen overnight. It was about
Indian women working together locally, regionally and nationally to make
this happen. We need to give thanks to all the non-Native women who have
been our partners and who brought greater awareness of to the special needs
of Indian women in Indian country," Fire Thunder said.

"The Violence Against Women Act is an important piece of legislation for
accountability, strengthening tribal court systems and, most importantly,
the advocacy work that needs to take place. It is the key to providing care
and support to Indian women and helping them strengthen themselves, she
said. "The Violence Against Women Act in Indian country has to be widely
supported by all tribal leaders in supporting the work of all tribal
members to end violence against women. VAWA may not give money to all
Indian tribes, but it is going to provide resources to sustain existing
programs and open the doors to new programs."

As the tribes met and talked about the need to support the legislation and
expand it to keep Native women safe from predators, Alaska Natives were
struggling to keep open the doors to its lone Native shelter in Emmonak,
Alaska. The shelter was the very first Native shelter in the nation.

Geri Simon, volunteer attorney with the Alaska Native Women's Coalition,
talked about the very real image of violence that Native women face every
day. "The Violence Against Women Act comes at a crucial time for the Alaska
Native Women's Coalition. We are picking up momentum in our efforts to
protect the safety of Alaska Native women. However, in the past few weeks,
two Alaska Native women were murdered by their partners in southwest
Alaska," she said. "We have a lot of work in front of us and the
reauthorization of VAWA will go a long way in helping us achieve our
mission of protecting the safety of Alaska Native women and children," said
Simon.

"Recognizing the sovereignty of Indian nations will increase [the] safety
of women and create stable communities free of violence. Women across the
nation are writing letters to their congressional delegations, hoping they
will muster the support necessary to pass the reauthorization keeping
Native shelter doors open and providing a remedy to keeping non-Indian
offenders from committing more crimes.

"One day our daughters and granddaughters will live in a tribal community
free of violence," Artichoker said.

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