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Support Indian Women: Support the Violence Against Women Act

I'm probably just another imperial colonialist. But...

One of my legally-minded commenters worries that reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, as passed by the U.S. Senate and now headed to the House for consideration tomorrow, would undermine our ability to prosecute non-Indians committing sexual crimes against Indian women. U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson does not share that concern:

"I think a big part of the argument on behalf of tribal jurisdiction is that local control over criminal justice matters is always preferable," Johnson said. "When victims and witnesses have to travel a significant distance to appear in federal court, you are going to lose some cases" [Kevin Woster, "Brendan Johnson Looks at Tribal Courts, Reauthorizing Violence Against Women Act," Mount Blogmore, 2013.02.26].

Author Louise Erdrich explains further why Kristi Noem needs to get off her high-horse and vote for the Senate VAWA:

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 [Louise Erdrich, "Rape on the Reservation," New York Times, 2013.02.26].

Erdrich notes that voting for VAWA would help Rep. Noem and her fellow Republicans win back some of their dwindling credibility. But that's window dressing to the real reason to support VAWA: doing right by the Indian women suffering at the hands of white predators.


  1. Thad Wasson 2013.02.27

    Don't believe this hogwash. 80% committed by non-natives? Only because tribal police won't arrest or try fellow natives if they have family connections. Or worse, do not believe the women who report violent crimes.

  2. Dougal 2013.02.27

    As one who wants Noem fired in the next election, I hope she continues her vicious and calculated war on women. She thinks she's playing to the crazy base that will support her in the Senate primary against Rounds. It will be interesting to watch her do the Teabagger Two Step to knock off King Marion and then pivot so as not to resemble that freak Michele Bachmann in the general election. Her gimmick should be worn pretty thin by June 2014 and then she can explain why she is the least effective and unproductive member of Congress in South Dakota history.

  3. Jim 2013.02.27

    I hope the house passes this. Not passing it will do more harm than if some whites had to submit to tribal jurisdiction.

  4. Les 2013.02.27

    If my friend Tom Iron was still around and writing, I would sick him on your numbers Corey.
    There is no doubt, there are non Indian's involved in abuse on the Rez. To use the 80% non Indian shows someone's lack of math skills and Rez knowledge. It is a bad problem but that kind of crap does nothing to help the cause.
    One of Toms opinion letters to ed's had a title, "when are we going to stop killing our women".
    I know better than to try and fix something folks much brighter than I haven't been able to mend. I can help as needs address themselves to me, and will.

  5. Jana 2013.02.27

    Les and Thad, 2 things.

    1. If you have other research, present it so we can also evaluate that information.

    2. What is the acceptable level of non-native violence against native women for you? 60%? 40%? 30%? 20%? 10%?

  6. Dana P. 2013.02.27

    Jana, two words.......THANK YOU!!

  7. grudznick 2013.02.27

    By non-native do you mean out-of-staters doing violence to citizens of South Dakota, in this case women who live on a reservation? I submit that level should be negative single digits.

  8. larry kurtz 2013.02.27

    Tribal are citizens of the United States but only residents of your failed state, grud.

  9. Les 2013.02.27

    That's a crock Larry.

    Similar to state government handing it off to the Feds.

  10. larry kurtz 2013.02.27

    should your church provide me a urinal, les or should i just go in your pew.

  11. Les 2013.02.27

    What level of violence on the Rez by anyone is acceptable Jana?
    Other research Jana? It is a well known fact Indian women and children are either not heard or under the effects of the abuse hide those crimes.

    So we have a number from the very poor stats where only God and the victims know the truth and we wave it like the flag dissipating oppression and forget about all the violence that continues because we have the 80% that's really probably 40%(?) of a much higher number.

  12. Jerry 2013.02.27

    Pee in the pew...Funniest thing I have seen all day.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.27

    Thad, Les, as Jana says, we've got to play the cards dealt and the numbers available. If you can get other numbers, get 'em. But even your suppositions don't refute Erdrich's point that whites are preying on Indian women and that VAWA can tackle that sexual predation. If there are other problems (non-reporting, tribes not believing their own women), we can seek other policies in addition to this one.

  14. Les 2013.02.27

    Non indians means all, by the percentages they enter the Rez. Yes whites are part of the problem for sure Corey.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.27

    Pardon me, Les—hasty de-generalization. Whites, blacks, Latinos, anyone not currently subject to whatever punishment the tribes can give to protect their own women. Imagine if the situation were reversed: would we stand for any outside entity not allowing our courts to punish intruders who rape our white women?

  16. Jana 2013.02.27

    "It is a well known fact Indian women and children are either not heard or under the effects of the abuse hide those crimes."

    Les, besides calling something a fact without support...doesn't this statement make this legislation even more needed? From what you are saying, this should be an even stronger bill and the VAWA should have even more funding to stop, or prosecute as a deterrent, the abuses you call a fact.

  17. Les 2013.02.28

    My friend of 35 years still hides the rape by an older white family member in her teen years and subsequent abortion she has never gotten over, a proud woman fighting alcoholism for life. Fragmented families of children living with uncle, called to his bed. A friend shot in the back of the head by a California gang member. A young mother and her three daughters hiding under farm equipment while the drunk husband searches for them with his gun, and finally the older daughter as usual quiets dad and his buddies as only she can, to protect their lives. A teen back in my childhood carrying her fathers unborn.
    I've known and grown up with these folks Jana. There are no links to back these facts. Not one of these Indian ladies has gone to authorities, written a book or been researched, but they do continue to carry the shame deep within them and deal with it however capable, mostly through alcohol.
    I understand the quantity violence on the Rez and would give anything to stop it, but to quantify 80% of it is non Indian sourced? Things have sure changed in the four years I've been away from the area. I do believe there are areas that number could be very accurate, but to use it across the board diminishes some very real problems.
    Yes Jana, even if the number was 5%, I believe abuse should receive all the immediate care we can give, unfortunately it's not easy when both parties have sold their souls to the devil.

  18. larry kurtz 2013.02.28

    House Passes VAWA with 283 Yeas; 131 Nays from Republicans. Bill now goes to the President. Reauthorizes through 2018.

  19. Jana 2013.02.28

    Thanks for sharing that Les. I believe in looking back at the article that referenced the 80% it was talking about one specific area in MN.

    I've also heard these stories and met women with the same horrific experiences. Women of all races urban and rural.

    That's why the failure to pass something as important as the VAWA is so mind numbingly frustrating.

    My fears are confirmed that John and Kristi are all about politics and zero about policies that affect over half of South Dakotans.

  20. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.28

    Noem and Thune aren't about politics, they are about partisanship and self-aggrandizement.

  21. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.28

    Not pee in the pew, but a joke from third grade about 60 years ago. Chinese proverb... man who farteth in church siteth in his own pew."

    Seems to apply all to well to current Republicans stinking up Congress and sticking a knife into economic recovery.

  22. Jerry 2013.02.28

    I get it now, the Chinese used urinals in their pews for their farteth. Much like this guy explaining how not to clean a septic tank. His thought is that you can explain and explain to a republican how not to blow something up. But you just know that they will put the blasting cap in and get that crap all over the country, not just them, but everyone. Indeed, they are sticking a knife in Americas back to try to kill her. They do not want anything but her death.


  23. Jana 2013.02.28

    Maybe we're being a little hard on Kristi. She might be on her smart phone trying to figure out how to spell "sequester." (Or playing Angry Birds in one of her many committee meetings.)

    Not to mention the Argus grilled her by asking her to give her talking points and then tortured her by not asking any follow up questions. Those guys are merciless.

    Should probably cut John some slack too as he is faced with the lowest Republican ratings ever recorded while he is the head cheerleader of the Senate GOP.

    That and trying to explain why playing petty politics with the appointment of a Secretary of Defense is a good idea when we are at war with actual American lives on the front line can be rather distracting.

    What would have been nice is if they would have defended women the way the fight to protect off-shore tax havens for banks and the wealthy while making sure that Facebook not only doesn't pay taxes but gets a tax refund. Oh yeah...deficit and stuff.

  24. Jana 2013.02.28

    Of course, it could also be that they were out celebrating the sweet irony of the GOP controlled Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act during Black History Month.

    Especially that pesky part 5 piece about preventing totally non-partisan ethical people like our own revered Secretary of State Jason Gant from ever doing anything to disrupt voting by people in the minority that might not be sure GOP voters. You know, like in the deep south?

    That couldn't happen...right?

    That's right, the great state of South Dakota is right up there with the land of Jim Crow and poll taxes.

    I know, hard to believe that the party that would dismiss violence against Native American Women would even be suspected of making it hard for Native Americans to vote.

    Go figure...right Jason? I mean you would never play fast and loose with the rules just for political advantage...would you?

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