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Why the Violence Against Women Act Is Crucial for Native American Women

Republicans until Tuesday, had proposed amendments to strip Native American rights and jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of violence on the reservation.

A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground…” -- Cheyenne proverb
This week’s debate on the Violence Against Women Act marks, what may be a very important stage in improving relations between tribal governments, state and federal governments and the protection of women.   The law has been up for re-authorization for five years, and has a few sticking points, mostly around the protection of Native and immigrant women, and gay and lesbian people.  Republicans until Tuesday, had proposed amendments to strip Native American rights and jurisdiction over non- Native perpetrators of violence on the reservation. In what appears to be a change of heart, Tuesday’s passage of SB 47 with tribal jurisdiction intact, was a step in recognizing that as Senator Patrick Leahy said, in debates, “… a victim  is a victim is a victim."
Why is this particularly important?  Presently, 34% of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes; 39% will be subjected to domestic violence in their lifetimes; 67% of Native women victims of rape and sexual assault report their assailants as non-Native individuals, and, on some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than ten times the national average.  Not good. This set of facts is paired with unfortunately high declination rates:  U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute nearly 52% of violent crimes that occur in Indian country; and 67% of cases declined were sexual abuse related cases. This means, in the end, that Native women have been, in the words of Senator Maria Cantwell, “ treated as second class citizens under the law.”

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