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Why the Violence Against Women Act Is Crucial for Native American Women

Republicans until Tuesday, had proposed amendments to strip Native American rights and jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of violence on the reservation.

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At some level, psychologically and beyond, this is of absolute importance to tribal nations. The ability of a tribal government to protect those who are most vulnerable is crucial to the dignity of a people. The folly of the Supreme Court’s Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, decision which precluded tribal criminal jurisdiction over non Indians on the reservation is apparent. The VAWA brings into the spotlight the need to protect tribal citizens, and address protection and prosecution of non Natives  who have chosen to live within Indian country. At some level, if you live there, just as tribal citizens off reservation, it seems fair that jurisdiction should apply. It is also not logistically feasible for federal or state governments to maintain the predominant criminal jurisdictional authority over Indian country. Non-Indian authorities are often situated far from reservations and do not have the manpower to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the high number of reservation crimes that fall under their jurisdiction post- Oliphant. And, as evidenced in the case of violence against Native women, follow through is non -existent. Native nations have the absolute right and need to protect our citizens.

As Cantwell testified, "The notion that this is somehow abrogating individual rights just because the crime takes place on a tribal reservation is incorrect. So I ask my colleagues, do you want to continue to have this unbelievable growth and petri dish of crime evolving? Because criminals know, when you have a porous border that is where they are going to go."


Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) is an internationally acclaimed author, orator and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities.

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