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Indian Country Today

Tribal nations are celebrating the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act.

Congress passed the omnibus spending package for the 2022 fiscal year late Thursday, which included major tribal provisions. It passed in the Senate with a 68-31 vote. The bill will now head to the president’s desk to be signed.

This means that tribal nations “will continue to increase safety and justice for victims who had previously seen little of either,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians in a statement.

Here is a breakdown of the VAWA reauthorization:

  • Reaffirmation of tribes’ jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, and obstruction of justice
  • Gives tribes authority to prosecute non-Natives who assault tribal law enforcement officers
  • Tribal nations in Maine and Alaska can exercise tribal jurisdiction under the act
  • Non-Native defendants must exhaust all tribal court remedies
  • Funding for and ensuring tribes can access national crime information systems via the Tribal Access Programs
  • Increased resources for tribes “to exercise Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction and establish a reimbursement program to cover tribal costs”
  • Re-establishes the Tribal Prisoner Program

Passage of the bill is not only a win for tribes in the Lower 48, but for Alaska because of a different legal framework (Metlakatla is the only reservation in the state) and the jurisdiction excluded non-Native perpetrators.

The act establishes the Alaska pilot project that empowers up to 30 tribal courts in the state and allows civil jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1998 ruling in Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie.

“The Alaska pilot program and Alaska Native Village jurisdiction is pivotal to transforming the public safety crisis in Alaska,” said Chief Mike Williams, Akiak Native Community and vice president of the NCAI Alaska Region in a statement.

(Related: Alaska tribal court jurisdiction would expand under US bill)

Along with protecting Native women and tribal law enforcement, the Muscogee Nation said the act gives resources to the tribe that will allow them to implement the McGirt ruling.

“We continue to make significant investments to expand our criminal-justice infrastructure to fully implement McGirt as it adds more safety, security and judicial resources for all,” said Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill in a statement. “We welcome Congress’ recognition that decades of illegal actions by the State of Oklahoma have created the need to expand tribal capacity and are grateful for the addition of vital funding to support these efforts as an extension of the federal government’s trust authority and responsibilities to tribal nations.”

(Related: Ruling stands, McGirt not to be overturned)

Legislation sacrifices

The passage of the bill, however, came at a cost especially for Native people with uteruses. In order to maintain Republican support, Democrats agreed to keep restrictions on spending federal money on abortions in the form of the Hyde Amendment. The amendment prohibits the use of federal dollars by agencies such as Indian Health Service for abortions. Passed in 1976, it has been renewed every year.

“Unfortunately, this is not unexpected,” said Charon Asetoyer, chief executive of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes, South Dakota. “It’s a sad state of affairs when men still control the most personal decision women make about their families.”

Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls is the only clinic performing abortion in South Dakota and does so only on a limited basis, according to Asetoyer who is a citizen of Comanche Nation. 

“It’s an enormous financial burden for our women to raise resources for travel and lodging for what should be a basic health care right,” she said. “Native women don’t really have a choice; this situation is repeated throughout Indian Country.”

(Related: Abortion: Native women respond to onslaught of laws and restrictions across the country)

What else is in the bill?

$6.707 billion for Native health programs at the Department of Health and Human Services

  • $6.63 billion for Indian Health Service programs, including $2.3 billion for IHS clinical services
  • $55 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Tribal Opioid Response grant program
  • $22 million for Health Resource and Services Administration grants to the Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems

$3.65 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education at the Department of the Interior

  • $7 million for DOI’s Indian Boarding School Initiative to conduct a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies

$1 billion for Native American housing programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • $922 million for the Indian Housing Block Grant program
  • $72.09 million for the Indian Community Development Block Grant program
  • $22.3 million for the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant program

More than $86 million to address the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis and public safety needs of Native communities

  • $50 million for the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs assistance to tribes
  • $25 million for DOI’s initiative to address MMIW cases
  • $5.5 million for DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women Tribal VAWA implementation grant program
  • $3 million for a DOJ initiative to support cross-designation of tribal prosecutors as Tribal Special Assistant United States Attorneys
  • $1 million for DOJ - OVW to conduct analysis & research on violence against Indian women
  • $1 million to support establishment of a Native Hawaiian Resource Center on Domestic Violence
  • $500,000 for a national Training and Technical Assistance clearinghouse on issues relating to sexual assault of American Indian and Alaska Native women
  • Five percent set-aside for tribes to receive direct funding from the Crime Victims Fund

More than $47.5 million for programs to support Native American languages and cultures

  • $16 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Officers
  • $14 million for HHS’s Administration for Native Americans Native language grant programs
  • $9.37 million for the Department of Education’s K-12 Native American language immersion grants
  • $2.3 million for Native American and Hawaiian museum services
  • $1.5 million for Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native culture and arts development
  • $1.5 million for DOI Native American language instruction and immersion programs for federally recognized tribes and tribal organizations
  • $1.5 million for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act implementation and enforcement at BIA
  • $1 million for the National Bison Range
  • $600,000 for a cultural resource study to protect Chaco Canyon
  • $500,000+ for ED to fund establishment of a Native American Language Resource Center

More than $65.42 million in tribal climate and environmental resiliency funding to help tribal communities address and prepare for the effects of climate change

  • $5 million for DOI’s tribal climate adaptation grants
  • $8 million for DOI’s tribal relocation grants
  • $10.65 million for reclamation of abandoned mines on tribal lands
  • $4.8 million for clean energy development through BIA Minerals and Mining
  • $12 million for mitigation of environmental impacts of Department of Defense activities on Indian lands
  • $6 million for the tribes wildlife conservation grant program at DOI’s Fish and Wildlife Service
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