Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Justice Sought for Native American Women

One in three Native American women in the US is a victim of domestic violence. Al Jazeera published the following, Justice Denied Native American Women examining the complex cultural, legal and political reasons these women seldom receive justice - either from the US court system or under tribal law on reservations. The article states:

In the US, Native American women are facing an epidemic of sexual assault and violence. One in three reports being the victim of a rape or attempted rape and Native American women are also 10 times more likely to be murdered than other groups of women in the US. Most of the attacks are also reported to be perpetrated by a person of another race. 

Here is a selection of information reported by Al Jazeera. To access the full article, click here.

On September 5, Lauren Chief Elk published an article for the Women Under Siege project detailing what she considers a "hidden epidemic": the prevalent problem of sexualised violence directed towards Native American and Alaska Native women.   

The video below from Native sketch group the 1491s lays out the most prominent statistics:

According to the 2010 US Census, there were approximately 5.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States. Of those, 78 per cent live outside of native lands, 20.5 per cent live on reservations or trust lands, and 1.5 per cent live on Alaska Native Village areas. These populations belong to 566 federally recognised tribes. These tribes maintain "a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government", often in the form of tribal councils. 

According to the US Department of Justice, in 86 per cent of cases of rape or sexual assault reported by Native women, the perpetrators are described as non-Native men. Under a 1978 US law, Native tribes have no authority to prosecute non-Native people, rendering tribal courts unable to try and prosecute offenders in these cases. For offenders who are Native American, tribal courts are often restricted with limited sentencing power. 

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which was meant to streamline efforts between Indian Health Services, the Department of Justice, Native tribes and tribal organisations to standardise sexual assault policies. The act also contained provisions intended to strengthen tribal governments, giving them authority to prosecute federal crimes.

At the time the TLOA was lauded as a step forward for tribal governments. However, under the act, tribes are required to meet certain governmental standards in order to begin prosecuting federal crimes. A 2012 report from the US Government Accountability Office found that none of the tribes surveyed in the report were excercising their new sentencing authority and most cited funding limitations. And although certain segments of Native land do fall under US state jurisdiction, most filed cases involving violence against Native women are dropped before reaching a formal hearing. 

Similarly, US state and local law enforcement have checkered records of investigating reports of sexualised violence. From a 2006 audit of the Duluth, Minnesota police department:The audit found problems with the systemic response to Native women who report sexual assault to the Duluth Police Department (DPD) from evidence collection to investigation to prosecution. The audit team reviewed approximately 35 police reports from the DPD. The manner in which they were investigated by patrol was highly inconsistent, few received follow-up contact from investigators and none resulted in prosecution.

This year, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs called the violence against Native women a human rights "crisis" and legal access for Natives in the US as an "unworkable and discriminatory race-based system". 

A letter from the US Department of Justice, written by US Attorney Deborah R. Gilg, underscored the UN statement: 

"Domestic violence, which includes assault, manslaughter, and murder, is so pervasive, intrusive, demoralizing and destructive to the fabric of our Native American communities, that it is one of our most challenging human rights issues. It is the right of every Native American woman to be free of fear, to be free of violence and to be free of ever having to be a victim."

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