International Commission Investigates and Will Monitor Violence Against Indigenous Women in the U.S. – High Level of Violence Against Alaska Native Women Astonishing

October 15, 2018 | Helena, MT

“It is outrageous that American Indian and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be
sexually assaulted or raped than other women in the United States and the fact that United
States law continues to fail them day after day and decade after decade is the worst type of
discrimination.” said Christopher Foley, an attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center.
According to the United States Government’s own statistics, more than 4 in 5, or some 84% of
American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. Even
worse, 56% of these indigenous women have experienced sexual violence.

On October 5, 2018, representatives from the Indian Law Resource Center, the Alaska Native
Women’s Resource Center, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center attracted
global attention to this issue at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights. The Commission is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, a
regional organization consisting of 35 countries, including the United States. The Commission
promotes respect for human rights and defends these rights within the Americas. It holds
thematic hearings to investigate human rights concerns. Convened while the reauthorization of
the Violence Against Women Act, a federal law key to the safety of all women, has been
delayed, the hearing highlighted systemic barriers in U.S. law that create an un unworkable,
discriminatory criminal jurisdictional scheme and limit the ability of American Indian and Alaska
Native nations to protect their women from violence and provide them with meaningful
remedies and access to justice. All this creates a cycle of violence allowing criminals to act with
impunity in indigenous communities. The hearing is the first on violence against indigenous
women in the United States since the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples in 2017, a critical affirmation of indigenous peoples and indigenous
women’s rights in the Americas. “The rights to personal security and to live free from violence
are internationally recognized human rights, yet the staggering, unchecked rates of violence
against indigenous women and girls in the United States can only be described as devastating,”
said Foley.

“Many indigenous women in the United States disappear, are murdered, or experience
domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence at alarmingly high
rates,” said said Lucy R. Simpson, Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women’s
Resource Center. “The murder rate for indigenous women is ten times the national rate on
some reservations.” Federal officials have recognized that Native Americans are a vulnerable
population to human trafficking yet hard data is scant. “Oil and gas development on and near
tribal lands also raises the already high risk that indigenous women will become victims of
violence, murder, and sex trafficking,” added Simpson. “The U.S. must not ignore its human
rights obligations to respond to, investigate, and address these increasing cases of missing and
murdered and sex trafficked indigenous women with due diligence.”

The hearing paid particular attention to the urgent situation of Alaska Native women who are
vastly over-represented in the domestic violence victim population and terribly under-served by
state law enforcement. “State law enforcement officers serve less than 100 of Alaska’s more
than 200 rural villages, leaving many villages without any law enforcement presence at all,”
stated Tamra (Tami) Truett Jerue, Executive Director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource
Center. “The jurisdictional restrictions in VAWA 2013 that deny Alaska Natives the full benefit
of the law and treat Alaska Native women differently than other women are some of the most
dangerous barriers in U.S. law today.”

Carlos Trujillo, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, recited programs and
policies being carried out by the United States government to protect women, including
indigenous women.

While acknowledging the United States’ efforts, Commissioner Joel Hernandez Garcia said he
was struck by the high level of violence against Alaska Native women, describing it as “really
astonishing.”

Commission President Margarette May Macaulay concluded the hearing by assuring the
petitioning organizations that the Commission would “continue to monitor the situation” and
assist in any way. She also requested more information to enhance their reporting.
The indigenous petitioning organizations urged the Commission to issue strong
recommendations to the United States with respect to its obligations to indigenous women
under international human rights law, including but not limited to restoring the criminal
authority of American Indian and Alaska Native nations to prosecute non-Indians committing
crimes in Indian country and Alaska Native villages; reauthorizing and strengthening the
Violence Against Women Act and the Tribal Law and Order Act with measures aimed at
ensuring that American Indian and Alaska Native nations have the authority and resources they
need to provide safety, justice, and healing for victims of gender-based violence; creating a
permanent mandate within the Victim of Crimes Act, the largest source of federal funding for
crime victims in the United States, to distribute funds directly to Indian nations to ensure that
indigenous women have access to victim services and compensation; launching immediate
reforms to ensure that the federal response to missing and murdered indigenous women is
appropriate, swift, and just; increasing federal technical and financial support to Indian nations
to enhance their response to violence against indigenous women; providing sufficient federal
support to non-profit, non-governmental indigenous women’s organizations to provide
effective and culturally appropriate services to indigenous women survivors; creating a forum
for dialogue, collaboration, and cooperation among tribal courts, federal courts, and state
courts on the issue of violence against indigenous women on tribal and Alaska Native lands;
developing a national initiative in consultation with Indian nations to examine and implement
reforms to increase the safety of Native women living within tribal lands under concurrent
tribal-state jurisdictional authority (Public Law 280 states); and supporting the
recommendations of the Indian Law and Order Commission, chapter 2 on Alaska, particularly
for a legislative fix for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Venetie v. State of Alaska regarding
Indian country.

On-demand viewing of the hearing is available on the IACHR YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NYS32e9agc.

###

About the Petitioning Organizations

Organized in 2015, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC) is a tribal nonprofit
organization dedicated to ending violence against women with Alaska’s 229 tribes and allied
organizations. AKNWRC board members are Alaska Native women raised in Alaska Native Villages
and have 141 years of combined experience in tribal governments, nonprofit management,
domestic violence, and sexual assault advocacy (both individual crisis and systems and grassroots
social change advocacy at the local, statewide, regional, national and international levels), and
other social service experience. AKNWRC’s philosophy is that violence against women is rooted in
the colonization of indigenous nations.

Founded in 1978 by American Indians, the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) is a non-profit
organization providing legal assistance to indigenous peoples of the Americas to combat racism
and oppression, to protect their lands and environment, to protect their cultures, to achieve
sustainable economic development and genuine self-government, and to realize their other
human rights. Its Safe Women, Strong Nation’s project works with indigenous women’s
organizations and Native nations to end violence against indigenous women. ILRC is in
consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. (www.indianlaw.org).

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest and largest national
organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, and is committed to
ending the epidemic of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. In 2003,
NCAI created the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women to address and coordinate an
organized response regarding violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. NCAI
is in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. (www.ncai.org).

The National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) is a nonprofit organization
whose mission is to ensure the safety of Native women by protecting and preserving the inherent
sovereign authority of American Indian and Alaska Native nations to respond to domestic violence
and sexual assault. NIWRC’s Board consists of Native women leaders from American Indian and
Alaska Native nations across the United States. NIWRC is a national resource center for Indian
nations providing technical assistance, policy development, training, materials, resource
information, and the development of tribal strategies and responses to end the violence. In 2015,
NIWRC launched the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Sovereignty Initiative to defend the
constitutionality and functionality of all VAWA tribal provisions. (www.niwrc.org).


Downloads:

Recommendations 
Statements 
>> Christopher T. Foley, Attorney with the Indian Law Resource Center
>> Lucy R. Simpson, Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center
>> Tami Truett Jerue, Executive Director of the Alaska Native Women's Resource Center
Submitted Briefing Paper 
Photos