Women are an integral part of our tribal communities. Revered as life bringers, healers, knowledge bearers, and leaders; as mothers, sisters, aunts, and wives. While our roles vary from tribal nation to tribal nation, one element remains consistent: women are to be respected. That respect extends to ensuring our safety and well-being. Within sovereign nations, violence is not a tradition. We were raised to know our tribal women are sacred.
Six years ago, today, U.S. Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, for the third time. The Act serves as a line of defense against the violence that pervades our tribal communities. Each time the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized, it has included life-saving provisions for Native women. In 2013, I watched as Congress reaffirmed our inherent right as tribal nations to prosecute non-Natives who victimize our people on tribal lands. Since that time, tribal courts across the country have held non-Native domestic violence offenders accountable in tribal courts and have brought justice and safety to many Native victims who had previously seen little of either.
However, despite the ground-breaking reaffirmation of tribal jurisdiction in the Violence Against Women Act 2013, federal law continues to prevent tribal courts from prosecuting non-Natives who commit sexual violence crimes or who stalk or traffic Native women. Moreover, other members of our tribal communities are also affected. Last year the National Congress of American Indians released a report on how the Violence Against Women Act 2013 provision is working in tribal communities. That report found that Tribes prosecuting non-Natives for domestic violence report that children are involved in their cases as victims or witnesses more than 60 percent of the time. But in these cases, federal law prevents tribal governments from prosecuting the crimes committed against Native children. Tribes are also unable to protect tribal police officers who may be assaulted when arresting a non-Native for domestic violence. Too many of our sisters, sons, and daughters are suffering, and too many non-Native offenders continue to prey on our people with impunity. This must end.
As Congress is preparing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for the fourth time, the National Congress of American Indians recently adopted resolution ECWS-19-005 urging Congress to pass a Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill. The resolution includes key protections for Native victims: addressing jurisdictional gaps, improving the response to missing and murdered Indian women, and ensuring that all tribes are able to make use of the Violence Against Women Act’s important provisions. All of these priorities have bipartisan support – ending the scourge of violence in tribal communities is not a partisan issue.
As we move forward, I pray our spirits are renewed with the strength to keep advocating for the well-being of the next generation. It is time once again for Native women to stand tall and not have to constantly look over our shoulders. It is time for us to hold our heads up high and know the federal government is doing its part to support our sovereignty through the Violence Against Women Act to ensure the safety of our children and our people. Tribal nations are here, and we are ready for a positive change. The time is now for Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
Juana Majel-Dixon serves as the Traditional Legislative Council for the Pauma Band of Mission Indians. Ms. Majel-Dixon is the Recording Secretary on the Executive Board of the National Congress of American Indians and currently serves as Co-Chair of the National Congress of American Indians Task Force on Violence Against Women.
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