Violence Against Native American Women
What does ‘tribal sovereignty’ mean and why is it so important to Native Americans? Tribal sovereignty describes the right of federally recognized tribes to govern themselves and the existence of a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Thus a tribe is not a ward of the government, but an independent nation with the right to form its own government, adjudicate legal cases within its borders, levy taxes within its borders, establish its membership, and decide its own future fate [emphasis added]. The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect tribal lands, assets, resources and treaty rights. – Native American Rights Fund
Yet, even with the above understanding of tribal sovereignty, federal Indian policy has often ignored it. Consider the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed on March 7, 2013. Only after this version of VAWA that Native American women were given the same protections as their non-Native counterparts.
Most notably, VAWA now grants federally recognized tribal governments the ability to prosecute crimes against women perpetrated by non-Native assailants. At the heart of the new VAWA provision is that all sovereign tribal nations be allowed to protect and defend the citizens of their nation under law.This is a significant change. Until now, tribal nations were almost powerless in prosecuting non-Natives for crimes committed on federal Indian reservation lands. Native American women have far too long been prey to non-Natives taking advantage of this vulnerability.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, 67% of Native American women victimized by rape or sexual assault have described their perpetrators as non-Native, and 63% of Native American women have experienced non-sexual assaults by non-Native offenders. Lisa Brunner (White Earth Anishinabe), in an interview with Al Jazeera, described what she called “hunting” by non-Native men who rape or sexually assault women on reservations, knowing there will be little legal repercussion.
While the new VAWA provisions are worth praising, the road to ending assault and violence on federal trust land reservations is far from over and Native American women still remain vulnerable. For instance, as the oil boom in North Dakota and Montana continue to expand, neighboring Native American reservations have been and will continue to be affected by the influx of transient non-Native workers flocking to the nearby oilfields.
Thankfully, for any such offenses that occur, one thing is now made clear by VAWA: Legal protection and equality for Native Americans is becoming a reality.