Protection against violence is a fundamental human right
Jessica Lenahan tells her story of domestic violence and how the Castle Rock Police Department in Colorado failed to protect her.
In the United States, violence against indigenous women has reached unprecedented levels on tribal lands and in Alaska Native villages. More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence. Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault and have reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than in the rest of the United States. Though available data is limited, the number of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and the lack of a diligent and adequate federal response is extremely alarming to indigenous women, tribal governments, and communities. On some reservations, indigenous women are murdered at more than ten times the national average.
Statistics define the scale of the problem, but do nothing to convey the experience of the epidemic. They tell part of the story, but fail to account for the devastating impacts this violence has on the survivors, Indian families, Native communities, and Indian nations themselves. Native children exposed to violence suffer rates of PTSD three times higher than the rest of the general population. Nevertheless, the statistics make absolutely clear that violence against Native women is a crisis that cannot wait to be addressed.
The Center’s Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with Native women’s organizations and Indian and Alaska Native nations to end violence against Native women and girls. Our project raises awareness to gain strong federal action to end violence against Native women; provides legal advice to national Native women’s organizations and Indian nations on ways to restore tribal criminal authority and to preserve tribal civil authority; and helps Indian nations increase their capacity to prevent violence and punish offenders on their lands.
RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND DENIAL OF EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW
It is outrageous that the vast majority of these women never see their abusers or rapists brought to justice. An unworkable, race-based criminal jurisdictional scheme created by the United States has limited the ability of Indian nations to protect Native women from violence and to provide them with meaningful remedies. For more than 35 years, United States law has stripped Indian nations of all criminal authority over non-Indians. As a result, until recent changes in the law, Indian nations were unable to prosecute non-Indians, who reportedly commit the vast majority (96%) of sexual violence against Native women. The Census Bureau reports that non-Indians now comprise 76% of the population on tribal lands and 68% of the population in Alaska Native villages. Many Native women have married non-Indians. However, it is unacceptable that a non-Indian who chooses to marry a Native woman, live on her reservation, and commit acts of domestic violence against her, cannot be criminally prosecuted by an Indian nation and more often than not will never be prosecuted by any government.
Federal and state officials having authority to protect Native women and girls are failing to do so at alarming rates. By their own account, between 2005 and 2009, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of the Indian country matters referred to them involving sexual abuse and related matters. Even grimmer, due to the lack of law enforcement, many of these crimes in Native communities are not even investigated.
United States law creates a discriminatory system for administering justice in Native communities−−a system that allows criminals to act with impunity in Indian country, threatens the lives and violates the human rights of Native women and girls daily, and perpetuates an escalating cycle of violence in Native communities. Women who are subjected to violence should not be treated differently and discriminated against just because they are Native and were assaulted on an Indian reservation or in an Alaska Native village!
VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
All this highlights the United States’ failure not only under its own law, including the trust responsibility to Indian nations, but also its obligations under international human rights law such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Perhaps the most basic human right recognized under international law is the right to be free of violence.
Through international advocacy, the Center and its partners not only educate, but also add world pressure on the United States regarding its obligations to end the epidemic of violence against Native women. Toward that end, the Center and its partners have raised awareness about violence against Native women in the United States within the United Nations through its Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2007), Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism (2008), Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (2011), Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2012), and repeatedly through the Human Rights Council and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The Center and its partners also have brought regional international attention to violence against Native women within the Organization of American States (OAS). In 2008, on behalf of numerous nonprofit organizations and tribal governments, the Center and Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women submitted an amicus brief in support of Jessica Gonzales Lenahan, who filed the first human rights case involving domestic violence in any international body against the United States. The case, which involved the deliberate failure of local police to enforce a domestic violence protection order, did not arise in Indian country. However, it has major implications for Native women who rarely see their abusers brought to justice. In 2011, the Center and its partners, the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Native Women and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, participated in the first ever thematic hearing on violence against Native women in the United States before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission has since expressed concern about violence against indigenous women in the United States, noting that such situations tend to be accompanied by impunity and urging the United States to address this violence through laws, policies, and programs. In 2018, the Center, the Alaska Native Women's Resource Center, and the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center participated in a second thematic hearing on violence against Native women in the United States. The hearing paid particular attention to the urgent situation of Alaska Native women, who are vastly over-represented in the domestic violence population and terribly underserved by state law enforcement, and also to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
REFORMING FEDERAL LAW TO RESTORE SAFETY TO NATIVE WOMEN
The Center collaborates with Native women’s organizations and Indian nations to change and improve United States law that unjustly restricts Indian nations from adequately investigating, prosecuting, and punishing these crimes against all perpetrators. The Center supports efforts to strengthen Indian nations in restoring safety to Native women. Our project recognizes that protection of Native women must involve strengthening the ability of Indian nations to effectively police their lands and prosecute and punish criminal offenders.
A center piece of our work with partner organizations has concerned the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired in 2011. The Indian Law Resource Center, the National Congress for American Indians Task Force on Violence Against Women, Clan Star, Inc., and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center have been working both domestically and internationally to restore safety to native women and to protect their most basic human right, the right to be free of violence. We supported efforts to add provisions to VAWA that would restore tribal criminal authority to address violence against Native women by non-Natives in Indian country. In 2012, the Senate passed such a bill by a strong bipartisan vote, however, the House stripped out protections for the most vulnerable, including Native women. Then, time simply ran out for the 112th Congress, leaving the lives of Native women threatened daily and tribes as the only governments in the United States without authority to protect women from domestic and sexual violence in their communities.
The 113th Congress acted quickly, passing a bipartisan VAWA with tribal provisions intact. On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) into law, an historic step forward that reflects not only the United States’ commitment to protect Native women from domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protective orders, but also its restoration and reaffirmation of inherent tribal sovereignty to protect their citizens from violence. Tribal participation in the new jurisdictional provisions is voluntary. VAWA expired in 2018 and is pending reauthorization in the 116th Congress.
TRAINING NATIVE COMMUNITIES
Restoring tribal criminal authority will only end violence against Native women if Indian nations have the institutional capacity and readiness to exercise such jurisdiction. Many Indian nations are developing the infrastructure for tribal justice systems to provide safety to Native women and girls within their territories, including tribal police departments, codes, and courts. Many have domestic violence codes; training for tribal law enforcement, tribal courts, prosecutors, and probation officers; and various programs for domestic violence offenders.
The Safe Women, Strong Nations project contributes to these efforts by providing Indian nations and Native women’s organizations with assistance to build the capacity of Indian nations to investigate, prosecute, and punish those who commit violence against Native women and restore safety to Native women. This includes assisting Native women’s organizations and Indian nations in better understanding criminal jurisdiction in Indian country and implementing provisions in the Tribal Law and Order Act and VAWA 2013. The Center also assists and prepares Native women’s organizations and Indian nations in using international advocacy to end violence against Native women.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For further information, visit our Safe Women, Strong Nations project at https://indianlaw.org/safewomen.
Jessica Lenahan tells her story of domestic violence and how the Castle Rock Police Department in Colorado failed to protect her.
Silence Perpetuates Violence. Join us during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in thanking the countless survivors -- like Sheila Harjo -- who have the strength to stand up and say "no more."
Native women's advocates in the United States are praising lawmakers for passage of an inclusive, bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that will afford protection to all women and victims of violence. The bipartisan bill, S. 47, passed by the Senate on February 12, 2013, and now by the House, 286 to 138, includes critical provisions to restore and strengthen tribal authority to protect Native women from violence in Indian country.
Native women are murdered at 10 times the national rate; 1 out 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and 3 out of 5 physically assaulted. Even worse, 88% of the perpetrators are non-Indian and cannot be prosecuted by tribal governments. Stand and take action now to restore safety and justice for Native women. Do Something!
Dianne Millich, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Colorado, already knows better than anyone about the importance of the tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, S. 1925, which was passed by the Senate with strong bipartisan support.
A body of experts (CERD) will review U.S. compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Indian Law Resource Center and several indigenous women’s organizations submitted an alternative report, Violence Against Indigenous Women in the United States, including the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women, and Lack of Safe and Adequate Housing for Indigenous Survivors, to help CERD gain a fuller picture of the serious human rights situation of indigenous women in the United States.
November 16, 2021 - This week, President Biden fulfilled his campaign promise to revive — after a four-year absence — the annual White House Tribal Nations Summit established during the Obama Administration.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, highlighting a critical issue for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN), and Native Hawaiian women who experience domestic violence at significantly higher rates than other women.
Join us in a National Week of Action (April 29-May 5, 2021) to call the nation and the world to action in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Take action by participating in these virtual events and organizing additional actions in your communities on or around May 5th.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
On October 10, 2020, two bills were signed into law to help address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in the United States. The bills, which were presented to the President on September 30, 2020, follow years of advocacy by indigenous women, tribes, and Native organizations calling for firm action to combat this human rights issue.
October 1st marks the first day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which offers a critical opportunity to continue to shed light on the issue of domestic violence.
UN Photo #841026 | Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), holds a virtual briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in Geneva, Switzerland | 15 April, 2020
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), a global health agency, declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. WHO defines a pandemic as a global spread of a new disease.
Cancellations, Suspensions, and Rescheduled Meetings
On April 13, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear the oral arguments in ten cases by telephone conference on May 4,5,6,11,12, and 13. The Justices and counsel will participate on the call, and live audio feed is expected to be provided to the news media. The Court previously postponed the hearings in these cases due to the coronavirus. The specific argument dates will be assigned at a future date.
The opening brief in McGirt v. Oklahoma was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on February 4, 2020. At issue is whether the State of Oklahoma can prosecute an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for crimes committed within the historical Creek reservation boundaries.
On June 27, 2019, the final day of its term, the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly failed to issue a decision in Carpenter v. Murphy. Many consider Murphy one of the Court’s most consequential and closely-watched Indian law cases in recent history. It also stands as the oldest case on the Court’s docket without a decision, surpassing the 200 days taken to resolve Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The Court will rehear the case next term.
On June 28, 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice declared a law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska and announced new funding for the law enforcement needs of Alaska Native villages. This funding includes $6 million dollars for the State of Alaska to hire law enforcement officers in rural Alaska, and another $4.5 million dollars that will be available to Alaska Native villages for similar purposes. The Department of Justice also announced a series of additional measures, including a sexual assault training program and a new Rural Alaska Violent Crime Reduction Working Group led by U.S.
[Helena, MT, July 2, 2019] - The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has recommended that the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States, in cooperation with UN entities, “organize an international expert group meeting, by 2021, on ongoing issues of violence against indigenous women and girls in the region, including trafficking as well as the continuing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.” The Permanent Forum made this recommendation in response to the voices of countless indigenous advocates and allies who have done so much work to bring awareness to
The Not Invisible Act of 2019, S. 982, is a bipartisan bill introduced on April 2, 2019 by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Jon Tester (D-MT), that seeks to engage law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers to respond to the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked indigenous people. The bill also would create an advisory committee to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice, comprised of tribal, local, and federal stakeholders.
On April 24, 2019, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Indian Law Resource Center, National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center held a panel discussion at the United Nations in New York, Violence against Indigenous women in the United States: How Indigenous nations and women are leading the movement to end the epidemic of violence in Indian country and Alaska Native villages.
The Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act 2019 (HR 1585) passed the House of Representatives on April 4, 2019 with bipartisan support. The bill now moves for consideration in the U.S. Senate.
February 26, 2019 | Several bills have been introduced in the Senate thus far this year that could help address the epidemic levels of violence against indigenous women. Additionally, Congress recently passed the FY 2019 omnibus appropriations measure ending the historic government shut down, but also failing to reauthorize or extend the Violence Against Women Act.
Today, the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Carpenter v. Murphy, a case that will determine whether the Creek Nation’s reservation in Oklahoma was diminished or disestablished and whether the state had jurisdiction to prosecute a crime committed by an Indian in Indian country. Although the case is about the prosecution of a murder, the Court’s decision could have significant implications for Indian nations wanting to use the expanded tribal criminal jurisdiction provisions authorized in the 2013 Violence Against Women Act to provide safety to their women. This is because the restored tribal criminal jurisdiction in VAWA is contingent on the acts of domestic violence or dating violence against Native women occurring in Indian country. The Center was part of the team bringing the Court’s attention to how the case will impact Indian nations in Oklahoma and throughout the United States seeking to protect women and children from domestic violence and dating violence in Indian country.
In October, the Indian Law Resource Center, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, bringing international attention to the high rates of violence against Native women in the United States and the unworkable, discriminatory criminal jurisdictional scheme that limits Tribes’ authority and ability to address this crisis in reservation communities. The Commission, astonished by what they heard, pledged to continue monitoring the situation and to assist in any way. (More ...)
August 15, 2018
Helena, Montana ̶ Indian Law Resource Center was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community for the Center's work to pursue legal strategies and educational initiatives aimed at improving safety in Alaska Native villages and access to justice for women and girls.