Senate Passes VAWA, Including Protections for Native Women

Published on Apr 26, 2012

Legislation Protects All Domestic and Dating Violence Victims on Reservations; Attention Turns to House Judiciary Committee

Today, in a significant step forward for protection of Native women, the U.S. Senate passed S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization of 2012.   Title IX will address the epidemic of violence perpetrated against American Indian and Alaska Native women by restoring concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over all persons who commit misdemeanor domestic and dating violence in Indian country and clarifying tribal court authority to issue and enforce civil protection orders.  Additionally, it strengthens federal authority to address violent felonies on Indian reservations.

Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, applauded the Senate.  “It was encouraging to see our leaders in the Senate put aside partisan politics and pass a bill that protects and serves all victims of domestic and sexual violence across the country—including our Native sisters, mothers, and daughters.  Today’s vote on the VAWA reauthorization represents a historic vote for Native people and tribal sovereignty.  Now, we must turn our full attention to the House and count on the same good will and bipartisanship to turn this bill into law and make these protections a reality.”

Several Senators took the floor yesterday and today to champion the tribal provisions in S.1925, including Senators Boxer, Klobuchar, Murray, Cantwell, and Murkowski.  Senator Akaka, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and sponsor of the Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women Act, had this to say about the bill’s key tribal provisions: “This bill’s tribal provisions address the epidemic rates of violence against Native women -- by enabling VAWA programs to more directly and promptly respond to their concerns and needs.  These tribal provisions are critical to the lives of Native women and doubly important to me as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -- and a Native Hawaiian.”

After sharing a powerful story from a Native victim of domestic violence, Senator Udall commented: “This is just one of the daily, even hourly, stories of abuse. Stories that should outrage us all. And that could end through local intervention. Local authority that will only be made possible through an act of Congress. We have the opportunity to support such an act in the tribal provisions of VAWA. I encourage my colleagues to fully support the tribal provisions in this important bill.”

Senator Murkowski spoke strongly in favor of the legislation and addressed concerns regarding violence against Native women in Alaska .  She described included amendments that “ensure that Alaska Tribes lose none of the jurisdiction and authority that they have to issue and enforce their domestic violence protection orders.” 

S.1925 passed the Senate on a 68 to 31 vote.  Senator Hutchison offered a substitute version of the bill that would have removed the provisions affirming tribal court authority among other changes, but it was not accepted by a vote of 36 to 63.   As a next step for the legislation, the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a mark up for May 8th, and House Members will be home in their districts next week.  NCAI encourages tribal leaders and all others to urge their House Members to support full inclusion of Title IX of S. 1925 in any House bill.

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