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SCHATZ LEADS INDIAN AFFAIRS OVERSIGHT HEARING ON RESTORING JUSTICE, ADDRESSING VIOLENCE IN NATIVE COMMUNITIES 

December 8, 2021

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led an oversight hearing, “Restoring Justice: Addressing Violence in Native Communities through VAWA Title IX Special Jurisdiction” to hear from the Departments of Justice and the Interior, Tribal leaders, and Tribal and federal Indian law experts.

 

Schatz opened the hearing by highlighting the Committee’s previous and ongoing work to strengthen the Violence Against Women Act’s (VAWA’s) Tribal provisions and keep Native women, children, and families safe.

 

“In 2013 with the last VAWA reauthorization … this Committee came together – on a bipartisan basis – and voted to restore Tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence in Indian Country. That vote – one of the first that I took as a new member of the Senate and of this Committee – was Congress’ first real step toward restoring justice for Native communities,” said Chairman Schatz. “[Now,] Congress can help Tribes and Native communities build on this success in the next VAWA reauthorization.”

 

Hearing witnesses shared their thoughts on the importance of the 2013 VAWA reauthorization and next steps to further enhance public safety in Native communities.

 

“VAWA 2013 has empowered Tribes to hold accountable longtime abusers, who previously had evaded justice. And the experience of the implementing Tribes has demonstrated that Tribal authorities can and do protect the rights of non-Indians defendants,” said Office on Violence Against Women Principal Deputy Director Allison Randall. “[Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction] has been a success, but many survivors have been left behind and perpetrators not held fully accountable because of its limitations. Congress must act.”

 

“American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than two times as likely to experience violent crimes and at least two times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than all other ethnicities. Violence does not happen in a vacuum, and this is why the Biden-Harris administration and the Department support the expansion of Tribal criminal jurisdiction beyond crimes of domestic violence,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Wizipan Little Elk Garriott. “Since time immemorial, Native nations have maintained effective justice systems. Today, Tribal governments and courts continue to prove they are best suited. … The time has come to honor Tribal sovereignty and expand Tribal criminal jurisdiction.”

 

“The current protections [provided under VAWA Title IX special jurisdiction] go far. However, they don’t go far enough. Specifically, law enforcement officers need to be protected when they respond to domestic violence calls … and children need to be protected as well from domestic violence,” said Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Michael Chavarria. “If that provision of VAWA is broadened to protect law enforcement and children, we can then provide justice to our entire community.”

 

“In the eight years since Congress reauthorized VAWA, we have seen Tribal Nations combat domestic violence against Indian women while protecting non-Indian rights in an impartial Tribal forum. By exercising their inherent sovereignty and jurisdiction, many Tribal Nations have increased safety and justice for victims, who had previously seen little of either,” said National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp. “Removing the gaps in Tribal jurisdiction, ensuring all 574 Tribal Nations can exercise jurisdiction, and providing the resources and tools for implementation together can dramatically change the environment in Indian Country by empowering Tribal sovereignty and safety.”

 

“Prior to 2013, we had consistently had reports of domestic violence of non-Indians on Indians being under-prosecuted or not prosecuted at all … Since we’ve implemented VAWA, we have had many successes,” said Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes Chief Judge Stacie Fourstar. “I understand that authorizing Tribes’ special jurisdiction over non-Indians is only one portion of the VAWA reauthorization, but it is a vital instrument to public safety and to effectively addressing domestic violence in Indian Country. Now is the time to move forward collectively.”

 

“Currently, Tribes cannot charge defendants with any of the crimes that happen alongside the domestic violence event that they are actually prosecuting, such as violence against children [or] assault on law enforcement. … Expansion to adjacent crimes would create a more equitable system for prosecutors and defense counsel to navigate,”said Stanford Law School Professor Elizabeth A. Reese. “Violent crime is messy. And granting Tribes the power to prosecute just one kind of crime simply doesn’t reflect the reality of how crime happens or the tools that people in the criminal justice system need to do their jobs.”

 

“Many Tribes outside Alaska have successfully exercised jurisdiction over non-Indians who abuse Native women since the passage of VAWA 2013. Indian Tribes in Alaska were effectively excluded from that legislation. … We have called on Congress to remove the legal barriers denying Alaska Native victims of violence access to justice from their own Tribal governments, and we are encouraged by current efforts to do so,” said Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center Law & Policy Director Michelle Demmert. “We strongly support proposed amendments to VAWA 2013 related to improvements for special domestic violence court jurisdiction.”

 

To view the full video of the hearing, click here.

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