The following three concerns and recommendations are only highlights of those identified by Indian tribes during the 2018 consultation. These issues are not new and reflect the complicated legal and policy barriers embedded in the layers of federal Indian law that impact the safety of Native women. Fortunately, resolution of some of these priority issues are being addressed in pending legislation and the 2018 VAWA Reauthorization Act, H.R. 6545.
Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indian Offenders (SDVCJ)
The lack of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders on Indian lands continues to be a key reason for the perpetuation of disproportionate violence against Native women. VAWA 2013 addressed this issue for certain crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, and protection order violations for some tribes. Many crimes of violence against Native women and children continue to fall through the cracks and many tribes, particularly those in Alaska and in states with restrictive settlement acts such as Maine, are not able to make use of this provision. For those tribes that are implementing the jurisdiction provision of VAWA 2013, funding and resources are a significant problem. Concerns have also been raised about how health care costs will be covered for non-Indian inmates who are sentenced in tribal courts. Recommendations: Federal departments support and reaffirm tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, and trafficking for all federally recognized Indian tribes. In addition, DOJ establish a federal workgroup to identify options for covering health care costs for non-Indians sentenced in tribal courts. It is recommended that all federal departments support increased funding for tribal implementation of the 2013 SDVCJ. Pending Legislation: Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, S.2233, would expand the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction provisions from VAWA 2013 to include co-occurring child abuse and crimes that may occur within the context of the criminal justice process. Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence, S. 1986, would expand SDVCJ to include sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking crimes committed in Indian country.
Crisis of Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls
Tribal leaders testified that the disappearance and deaths of Native women are not taken seriously, and that increased awareness and a stronger law enforcement response are critical to saving Native women’s lives. They noted that missing Native women may have been trafficked, and also provided examples of abusers who murdered their partners after engaging in a pattern of escalating violence for which they were not held accountable. Tribal leaders also raised concerns that cases involving Native victims are often mislabeled as runaways or suicides, and that cold cases are not given sufficient priority. This past year, more than 200 tribal, state, regional, and national organizations joined with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center in support of the Senate resolution to create a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. This public call for increased awareness is indicative of the extent of the reality that Native women go missing on a daily basis often without any response by law enforcement.
Recommendations: DOJ fully implement the VAWA 2005 program of research and specifically provide Indian tribes information regarding the disappearance and murder of Native women; and all federal departments should take the necessary actions to:
- Review, revise, and create law enforcement and justice protocols appropriate to the disappearance of Native women and girls, including inter-jurisdictional issues;
- Provide increased victim services to the families and community members of the disappeared or murdered Native woman, including but not limited to both Native and non-Native services such as counseling for the children of the disappeared, burial assistance, and community walks and healing and other tribal-specific ceremonies;
- Coordinate efforts across federal departments to increase the response to the disappearance or murder of Native women and girls; and,
- Coordinate efforts in consultation with Indian tribes to increase the response of state governments, where appropriate, to cases of disappearance or murder of Native women or girls.
Pending Legislation: Savanna’s Act, S. 1942, H.R. 4485, would improve the response to cases of missing and murdered women in tribal communities.
Victim of Crime Act Permanent Tribal Funding Stream
American Indians and Alaska Natives experience the highest crime victimization rates in the country. Tribal governments, like other governments, are responsible for meeting the needs of victims in their communities. The newly created 3% tribal set-aside from the Crime Victims Fund is celebrated across Indian tribes. This funding has the potential to change the landscape of crime victim services in tribal communities. Recommendation: The DOJ, DOI, and HHS should strongly support a permanent fix to the VOCA tribal funding stream by passage of the SURVIVE Act. Pending Legislation: SURVIVE, S. 1870, H.R. 4608, would create a permanent 5% set aside to tribal governments out of the Crime Victims Fund.