Month: September, 2012

Al Jazeera Highlights Failure of Violence Against Women Act to Protect Native Women

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

  A recent episode of the Al Jazeera English program The Stream examined the failure of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide adequate legal protection to Native women. Guests featured in the September 18 program, Sarah Deer (Muscogee Creek Nation), assistant professor at William Mitchell Law School; Andrea Smith (Cherokee), co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence; and Rebecca St. George (Fond du Lac Ojibwe) of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, discussed the causes of sexual violence against Native women—and the failure of VAWA to protect them.

With 1 in 3 women in Indian country reporting some type of sexual violence, and many more unlikely to ever report the crimes committed against them, St. George insisted that most Native women are survivors. “Most Native women I know,” she said during the broadcast, “have been raped.”

Native women are also murdered at rates 10 times the national average, and are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than any other group. Violence against Native women is a human rights crisis.

Despite assault rates in Indian country that rival those of sexual violence in war zones, republicans in the House of Representatives have opposed the Senate-approved provisions put in place in VAWA to protect Native women—along with immigrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) women.

Read more:

Video Urges Action on VAWA

Monday, September 17, 2012


September 5, 2012

For more information contact:
Ginny Underwood  (405) 229-7210

(Helena, Mont.) —  The Indian Law Resource Center released a new short video this week urging lawmakers to reauthorize a stronger version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to protect Native women from violence. 

In the video, Native women raise awareness about statistics that show one in three of them will be raped in their lifetime and six in ten will be physically assaulted.  Even worse, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is ten times the national average.

“I want the rights afforded other women in this country.  I want to be safe and when my safety is violated, I want justice,” says a young Native woman in the video.

“By passing a stronger VAWA reauthorization, lawmakers have an opportunity to fix a longstanding jurisdictional gap in United States law,” said Jana Walker, senior attorney and director of the Indian Law Resource Center’s Safe Women, Strong Nations project. “Lawmakers must take immediate action to stop the epidemic rates of violence against Native women—rates 2½ times higher than any other group of women in the United States.”

In April, the Senate passed S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act with provisions that would help tribes address domestic violence and dating violence in Indian country; however, the House passed a version stripping out these provisions.  Since then, procedural logjams and politics have kept Congress from taking action.

“Congress is being called on to stand with Indian nations to stop this epidemic of violence against Native women. We encourage people to share the clip on their social media channels and repost or tweet the link,” said Walker.  “The video is a way everyone can help raise awareness and urge strong and immediate action to restore safety to Native women.”

The video was co-produced by the Center and Native filmmaker Ryan Red Corn, co-founder of Buffalo Nickel Creative.  Red Corn also produced “To The Indigenous Woman” which was released by the Center in October 2011.  For more information or to download and share theVAWA video, visit

The Indian Law Resource Center’s newly released video urges action on the VAWA reauthorization to protect Native women. Speak up and Act now!

Monday, September 17, 2012
Please watch all videos... they are informative and the time to get the real VAWA passed is of utmost urgency!



Monday, September 17, 2012
With the upcoming 2012 national, state, and local elections, questions arise about safety considerations for domestic 
violence survivors when registering to vote. Guidance from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV)
Technical Assistance Team follows.

Voting may pose safety and privacy concerns for victims of domestic violence. Once a voter registration application form is sent to local or state election officials, it becomes a matter of public record and can often be accessed by almost anyone. In some states, access is limited to political parties or candidates, as well as to others who meet the requirements of the state law governing its use. However, in many states, access to voter rolls is unrestricted.1

Not surprisingly, domestic violence victims who fear being found by their abusers may not register to vote to avoid having their contact information included in public records. Likewise, domestic violence victim advocates will go to great lengths to protect the confidentiality and safety of those they serve. Given that stalking is a very common tactic of abuse, with two-thirds of female victims of stalking being stalked by intimate partners2 victims’ and advocates’ apprehension is not unfounded. Fortunately, anti-violence advocates have worked on behalf of all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking to help ensure that options are in place to protect voters who fear for their safety.

The NRCDV has developed this Technical Assistance Guidance to provide victims and survivors, as well as their advocates, with recommendations for protecting and enhancing victims’ safety while exercising their right to vote. This guidance may also be helpful to organizations and community groups that are mobilizing civic participation and engaging in voter registration efforts. If victims and survivors are unaware that voter registration lists are considered a public record, they can unknowingly put themselves in harm’s way. 

Information about potential risks and safety options available to victims of domestic violence and other crimes can be proactively incorporated into voter education activities that are designed to inform the public about their democratic rights and election procedures. (read in entirety at:


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Leader Emerges: Hopi Tribe Adopts New Criminal Code According to Tribal Law and Order Act Standards

Monday, September 3, 2012

By Anne Minard September

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in May noting that no tribes in a wide survey had yet adopted the new sentencing guidelines. Tuesday, August 28’s 16-2 vote, which followed a highly emotional, three-hour hearing about the systemic effects of unpunished crime in the reservation’s villages, may signal a change. Two other tribes – the St. Carlos Apache and the Pascua Yaqui, also in Arizona – have made similar governmental nods to the new guidelines set forth in the Act. But Arizona assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider, who attended the council meeting, said Hopi is the only tribe so far to have all the necessary elements in place, including a full court staff, to actually implement the guidelines.

“They’ll be able to move forward with this pretty quickly,” he said.

Following the affirmative vote, a beaming Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said he was proud of the council, as well as members of a committee that has been drafting the new code for the past year.

“This strengthens our ability to protect the victims of crimes on Hopi,” he said.

Unreported Atrocities

Carlton Timms is the youth coordinator in his Hopi village, Tewa, and president of the Hopi Alliance Against Substance Abuse (HAASA). Speaking in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, he said he was aware of some tribal members’ fears that the new code wasn’t polished enough to pass – or that tribal members didn’t know enough about it. But action to update criminal laws on Hopi has been long overdue, he said.

“The old ordinance is so outdated and so behind the times as far as addressing the crimes that are committed on the reservation,” he said. “The trends on the reservation are like what they’re dealing with in the cities now. I think we can’t wait any more.”

Timms says he’s intimately familiar with the impact of crime through both his work and his personal journey.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he said. “I committed crimes when I was younger. That’s what I knew. That’s what I witnessed as a child. I didn’t know any other way of coping with what I was experiencing. It’s a cycle.”

Timms has argued that the new code presents a key part of the solution: “We really need to do something about holding people accountable,” he said.

At least a dozen impassioned community members spoke during the meeting. Because it is unusual for a non-Hopi reporter to attend Hopi council meetings – and the nature of the testimony was so personal – most of it will be reported anonymously. Young women spoke of being sexually molested as girls, and never telling because they knew their perpetrators would be free to retaliate. Teachers described their frustration and sadness at knowing their students were cowering from drunken violence by night, and expected to sit still and pay attention in class by day. Arlene Honanie, wife of the Hopi tribal vice chairman who has served as a speech pathologist educator in schools, said up to 90 percent of girls in Hopi villages can be expected to suffer sexual molestation, partly because offenders are so seldom prosecuted.

Perhaps the most surprising testimony came from a somewhat disheveled young man in jean shorts from the village of Oraibi who told the council he’d been released from jail hours before – and wandered into the wrong meeting. He’d been sitting and listening, he said, and he was incensed because he remembered a friend who had been raped and murdered; her perpetrator continues to walk free. His mother, too, was beaten years ago, and he still harbors anger against the unpunished man responsible for that. Although he hadn’t laid eyes on the new criminal code, he urged the council to pass it – which, moments later, they did.

Latitude and Power

In terms of sentencing, the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act amends terms in the 1968 Indian Civil Right Act, which has limited tribal courts to punishments fitting misdemeanor crimes. In theory, more serious crimes were to be tried in federal courts, but a litany of disconnects have often prevented that from happening. And that’s frustrating for tribal judges like Richard Trujillo, chief judge at Hopi, who has been a major proponent of the new code.

“Today if you commit homicide or rape on a reservation and a federal court doesn’t pick up the case, the most the tribal court can punish is up to one year,” he said.

The federal Tribal Law and Order Act sets out new terms, which can be adopted by tribes to apply to crimes they’re facing: “A tribal court may subject a defendant to a term of imprisonment greater than 1 year but not to exceed 3 years for any 1 offense, or a fine greater than $5,000 but not to exceed $15,000,” it states. And a new provision allowing judges to stack terms for multiple offenses means that they can put violent criminals or repeat offenders away for up to nine years.

A year ago, the Hopi Tribe created a Law Enforcement Task Team and tasked it with updating the criminal code. The Team included council members representing multiple villages, Trujillo, Hopi Chief Prosecutor Jill Engel and various agency representatives. It was headed up by Wayne Kuwanhyoima, who spent most of his career in law enforcement.

Kuwanhyoima told the council that even while they were working on the code, events came to pass that inspired some of its elements. The Hopi Tribe created its own version of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, so that was included in the code. And a jailbreak at the tribe’s only detention facility led to the inclusion of new language about extraditions and arrest warrants.

Overall, definitions of crimes became more inclusive. The former code included just one statute dealing with sexual assault: a prohibition against non-consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. The new code bans more forms of molestation and specifically addresses the abuse of children and the elderly, as well as same-sex sexual assaults. It also acknowledges a greater variety of illegal drugs that have emerged on the reservation since the 1970s, including methamphetamines and synthetics, and addresses a pervasive bootlegging issue.

Not Finished Yet

Many speakers at August 28’s Hopi Council meeting acknowledged that a new criminal code is a start – not a silver bullet. They pointed out the need for ongoing substance abuse education in the schools, services to help people addicted to alcohol and drugs, and aggressive law enforcement action to enforce the new codes and investigate crimes when they happen. In many cases, inadequate funding cripples key ingredients in the mix.

The Tribal Law and Order Act acknowledges that too. Besides expanding sentencing latitude for judges, the Act “encourages the hiring of more law enforcement officers for Indian lands … expands efforts to recruit, train and keep Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Tribal police officers; and provides BIA and Tribal police officers with greater access to criminal information sharing databases.” It also authorizes training for sexual response assault teams and allows for resources to improve criminal investigation and coordination between tribal and federal courts.

Engel, the Hopi chief prosecutor, is a recent graduate of one of the new programs, having just become a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA).

“I’m trained to appear on cases from reservations in federal court,” Engel explained, adding that she’s now one of eight such tribal prosecutors in the state of Arizona. She said that’s helpful to tribal criminal prosecution on multiple levels.

By the time a crime gets to federal court, “in a lot of cases I’ve gotten to know the victims,” she said. “It could help victims be more willing to work with the prosecutor. There’s increased communication, making sure cases are submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” And because she has FBI clearance and access to information from investigations, she can monitor their progress.

John Tuchi, tribal liaison for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona, said many more challenges remain in law enforcement among Arizona’s 22 tribes.

For example, “with very few exceptions, most of them do not have adequate jail space,” he said. The Navajo Nation, for example, maintained 40-80 beds in various facilities before building two new jails earlier this year. Even its contracts with off-reservation facilities didn’t adequately address the need. The Hopi jail, in a converted building originally built as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, has even less space.

“That is a very common experience in many tribes is that they’ll have to contract out,” he said. “If they don’t have the money they won’t get the beds.“ In one provision of the Act, the federal Bureau of Prisons has been enlisted to help fill the need, but funding has to be pulled from a variety of sources for tribes that propose new jails.

As for the disconnect between crimes and federal trials, he said, “it’s not for an arbitrary reason or because we’re busy,” he said. “It’s either not been presented to not been presented to our office for a prosecution decision, or the evidence is insufficient to sustain a federal charge.” That’s often a resource issue too, he said – tribes often can’t afford the manpower for successful investigations.

Some help on these fronts is available in provisions in the Tribal Law Enforcement Act, but tribal action will be required to take advantage of it.

At Hopi, the next big step may fall to the law enforcement branch. Mervin Yoyetewa, a tribal council representative from the Village of Mishognovi, levied a challenge on Tuesday along with his “yes” vote on the new criminal codes: “Is law enforcement going to enforce them?” he asked. “How do me make them accountable?”
(From: Indian Country Today)

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