Good news: House Republicans are expected to let their watered-down version of the Violence Against Women Act die in order to pass the Senate version of the bill, which includes a provision that licenses Native American courts to prosecute non-Indians on tribal land and protections for LGBT and immigrant victims of violence. The House plans to hold their two votes on Thursday. VAWA could be on the president’s desk for signing as early as Friday. Finally.
Louise Erdrich, author of the recent National Book Award-winning The Round House, has a brutal, literary essay in the New York Times about just how important the new provisions for Native Americans are. She explains the legal system that allows non-Native men to rape on tribal land with impunity, and the devastating effect of epidemic violence on Native communities.
Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer.
The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape. Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. Further tearing at the social fabric of communities, a Native woman battered by her non-Native husband has no recourse for justice in tribal courts, even if both live on reservation ground. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas. Alexandra Pierce, author of a 2009 report on sexual violence against Indian women in Minnesota, has found that there rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season. A non-Indian can drive up from the cities and be home in five hours. The tribal police can’t arrest him.
You can (and should) read the full essay here.
House GOP lets the Violence Against Women Act expire for first time since 1994
A GIF Guide to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The VAWA expired a year ago and Republicans are still blocking reauthorization