Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
Will Congress Act
WASHINGTON - Thursday's announcement from Obama administration officials that the US Department of Justice sent to Congress legislation that would help to close three legal gaps that may help curb violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women is welcome news.
This announcement came one week after the poignant testimony before the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs' hearing called, "Native Women: Protecting, Shielding, and Safeguarding Our Sisters, Mothers and Daughters."
Minnesota US Senator Al Franken, a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, said violence against violence against American Indian women occurs at epidemic rates.
Research reveals that one-third of Native women will be raped during their lifetimes, and nearly 3 out of 5 have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners.
The proposed legislation identifies three legal gaps that can be addressed through congressional action:
"This is a very positive development. The Department of Justice is clearly committed to building on the Tribal Law and Order Act (signed in July 2010) with additional legislation which will help Native women," said Sarah Deer, assistant professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, who made testimony before the senate committee on July 14. "We knew that the Tribal Law and Order Act was just a beginning, and we hoped that it would not be the end of the effort. I'm very pleased to see this proposal. I hope Congress will act on it soon."
While the proposed legislation is long overdue and addresses increasing the punishment of the those who commit violence against Native women on tribal lands, it does not address those who live off Indian reservations.
"My concern is for the over 50 percent of American Indians in this country who do not live on their reservations, who reside in urban areas, who are perhaps not enrolled or connected to their tribe, and who are also being victimized. There seems to be no remedy for them in this legislation," commented Suzanne Koepplinger, the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, based in Minneapolis.
"They are the women we serve, they are often young girls who have left their reservations for the city with high hopes, only to find themselves preyed upon and sold into the commercial sex industry. I hope the Federal government will not forget that Indian women do not only live on reservations and begin to provide more resources for all."
posted July 25, 2011 8:57 am edt
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