WASHINGTON ― Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) on Thursday ripped House Republicans who tried this week to strip protections for Native American women from the Violence Against Women Act.
During a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on missing and murdered indigenous women, Haaland said she was painfully reminded this week how Native women have to keep fighting for basic protections that are afforded to other groups. She cited a “corrosive” effort by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in a Wednesday hearing to repeal a provision in the Violence Against Women Act that gives tribes jurisdiction over non-Native men who abuse Native women on tribal lands. Democrats rejected his amendment in a party-line vote.
“For any congressional leaders to attempt to take away protections for not only women but indigenous women, at a time when we are just beginning to understand how deep-rooted and serious of an issue the severe lack of protections are for Native women, is an abomination,” said Haaland, one of the two first-ever Native women elected to Congress in November.
A Sensenbrenner spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Other Republicans who voted for his amendment were Reps. Doug Collins (Ga.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Mike Johnson (La.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Ben Cline (Va.), Greg Steube (Fla.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.).
Tribes fought hard to add that 2013 provision to the Violence Against Women Act ― they nearly lost ― because, up until it became law, jurisdiction over non-Native abusers on tribal lands fell to federal or state law enforcement, who are often hours away from reservations and lack the resources to respond. That meant non-Native abusers were essentially immune from punishment. Thanks to the provision, tribal law enforcement now has the ability to intervene.
Native women experience violence at appallingly high rates. More than 84 percent of indigenous women endure violence in their lifetime, and the vast majority of Native victims of violence ― 96 percent of women and 89 percent of men ― report being victimized by a non-Native person. Horrifically, Native women are also mysteriously going missing and being murdered, an issue that Haaland became emotional discussing in Thursday’s hearing.
“The silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women has been my top priority, since long before being sworn into Congress,” she said, choking up. “Indigenous women deserve to be protected just like anyone else in this country.”
You can watch her full remarks here:
Haaland is backing several bills to address violence directed at Native women, including Savanna’s Act, which would help law enforcement better respond to the grim reality that Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average in some counties. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is taking the lead on this bill and vowing to get it done after a single GOP congressman blocked it last year for a really dumb reason.
Sensenbrenner’s reason for trying to strip the provision from the Violence Against Women Act ― he said non-Native men who abuse Native women on tribal land might not have their constitutional rights upheld in a tribal court ― is bogus since tribes are sovereign nations with their own laws in place for responding to crimes committed on their land, just like any other state or country has laws for this. There also hasn’t been a single habeas corpus petition alleging constitutional violations since the tribal provision took effect in 2013.
“Contrary to this fact, Rep. Sensenbrenner suggests that tribal courts are incompetent to carry out their judicial responsibilities and implies, from his perspective, that perpetrators will not get a fair shake in front of juries,” said Haaland.
She added, “As a member of the United States Congress, we all take an oath that we are bound by to support and defend the Constitution ― a Constitution that acknowledges that tribal governments are sovereign nations.”