Some terrible statistics loom over the lives of indigenous women: They are more than twice as likely as non-Native women to be victims of sexual violence and domestic violence, and one in three will be raped in her lifetime. According to the National Tribal Justice Resource Center, homicide was among the leading causes of death for young Indian women as recently as a decade ago. Further, most of these women were killed by a relative or someone they knew.
Figures like these seem to circle around Native communities like vultures, casting ominous shadows wherever women walk.
To help combat this devastating crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced a number of grants to support tribal governments and coalitions throughout Indian country.
To ensure that perpetrators of crimes against Native women are brought to justice, there must be a coordinated effort to reduce the complexity of tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives.
Recovery Act funds will aid Indian communities in Alaska, Arizona, California, Kansas and Michigan; as well as Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota. Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin will also receive funds. The aid to tribal programs and coalitions will help develop violence awareness and prevention programs benefitting women, men, children, teens and elders. These response services and culturally appropriate support programs for survivors can have a lasting residual effect on families and communities.
More than $20 million will be provided to the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women for the Indian Tribal Governments Program to decrease the number of violent crimes committed against Indian women, help Indian tribes use their independent authority to respond to crimes of violence against Indian women and make sure people who commit violent crimes against Indian women are held responsible for their actions.
That’s a tall order, due to myriad jurisdiction issues that have allowed violence against Native women to metastasize. Some tribal leaders had a chance to express this concern as the Obama administration in August invited Indian leaders to Washington for consultations, while DoJ convened the first sessions of its Tribal Nations Listening Conference in an effort to improve federal-tribal coordination and action. These are positive and welcome steps toward an open dialogue between Native nations and the White House.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the funds reflect a “renewed partnership” between the DoJ and tribal communities “to ensure the safety of every Indian woman and address tribes’ criminal justice challenges.” Indeed, true change will require more than a monetary solution.
To ensure that perpetrators of crimes against Native women are brought to justice, there must be a coordinated effort to reduce the complexity of tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives. Consider that in at least 86 percent of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, the survivors report the perpetrators are non-Native men. Matters of jurisdiction must not be ignored. Because of what Amnesty International calls a “maze of injustice,” valuable time and already limited resources are spent determining which system has authority to investigate these crimes. It is a terrible insult to survivors – and sends a disturbing message to criminals.
We appreciate these recent efforts by the Obama administration to address justice issues, and for the sake of Indian women and their families, we hope this meaningful, nation-to-nation dialogue continues.