Tulalip member Gayle Jones has worked for the tribe for 36 years. The first 32 years of her career she worked with Family Services in various positions, namely Clinical Supervisor and Chemical Dependency Counselor. In recent years, Gayle has taken on a new opportunity where she is able to help the people of her community on an entirely new level.
“It’s all from the spirit, it’s a gift,” states Gayle. Her new position as Spiritual Counselor with the Domestic Violence Program provides her the opportunity of doing what she is most passionate about, helping people who lost their way to find their path again.
“I always grew up around the Shaker religion because my grandpa and auntie were Shakers,” said Gayle, who at 15 years old had a friend invite her to join the Shaker Church. She decided to give it a chance and while in attendance she was so frightened, she left. “I was spooked, my auntie was shaking on me. I was scared I ran away.”
In her twenties, Gayle was still finding her footing in life. During those years of self-discovery, like many young adults, she experimented with alcohol. This turned into addiction. She struggled with that alcohol addiction until age 29, when she decided she needed spiritual healing and made a life change by getting sober and finding her faith again.
The Spiritual Counselor position sees Gayle assisting the entire community of Tulalip. She conducts cleansings and prayers at events as well as individual counseling and home visits. While working on people, she remains respectful of the individual’s personal beliefs. “On home visits, I tell people to pray to who they believe in. I am not here to force anything onto anybody. I am not a priest; I am a human”
When requested Gayle will often travel to hospitals to assist those who need spiritual support. “I pray for them and their families and ask for their strength and health.”
Part of the service that Gayle provides is candle-work. “It’s a blessing. The light of the candle is the light of the spirit, of who you believe in. For me personally, it’s God. The light of the spirit cleanses everything; I am only an instrument,” she explained. The cleansing practice uses a lit candle as a tool, much like cedar branches, to remove negative energy from a person’s aura while simultaneously providing relief and balance to their lives.
“A lot of it is getting rid of stress. People are like magnets, they carry stress from work and a lot of grief too. I can get all that off of them,” she explained. Gayle ultimately wants people who are struggling to know that it gets better. She is working to heal the community, one request at a time, by providing spiritual counseling and guidance.
She says, “Knowing there’s hope out there that’s a huge part of [recovery]. Somebody helped me when I was going through all of it. Somebody grabbed my hand, was there for me and said ‘Come on girl get it together.’ So, that’s what I’m doing in return. All of my chemical dependency work and all of my spiritual work is to make people feel better.”
For more information, contact Gayle Jones at 360-716-4981.
Robin Poor Bear visits Tulalip, speaks out against abuse
By Kim Kalliber, Tulalip News
An estimated one in three Native American women are assaulted or raped in their lifetimes, and three out of five experience domestic violence. Robin Poor Bear, an Oglala Sioux and member of North Dakota’s Spirit Lake tribe, is one of these women.
After facing years of abuse, which began at the age of three when she was molested by her father, and continued through a foster father and two uncles before an abusive husband, Poor Bear continues to fight to improve her life and the lives of others.
Poor Bear turned to alcohol as a way to cope with the psychological issues stemming from abuse. Following her divorce, and the conviction of her ex-husband for molesting their daughter, her two children were taken away from her.
“Kind Hearted Woman,” A PBS documentary created by acclaimed filmmaker David Sutherland, tells the powerful story of Poor Bears struggle to sustain herself, overcome addiction, and gain custody of her children against daunting odds. And throughout it all, she remains kind hearted and devoted to helping others.
Since the making of the documentary, Poor Bear has been traveling to various reservations and communities, serving as a role model and a symbol of strength to other women.
“A lot of people tell me that I’m so brave and so courageous, and I don’t feel like that,” said Poor Bear on her recent visit to Tulalip. “I think that the Creator gives you strength to carry through whatever it is you have to go through. When I told my story, it was Him, I was just going through the motions.”
Poor Bear spent two days, October 19 and 20, on the Tulalip Reservation, speaking with community members about overcoming the fear to speak out about abuse, recovering from tragedy, and urging others to reach out for help.
“I’m so grateful for all of it. There were tons of people that attended these two days of workshops. What an honor. What a beautiful, beautiful place that is here. The people are so amazing. What can we do, is the response I got from the people. I want to give each and every one of them a big thank you, because we need more of that.”
Speaking on VAWA and tribal courts, she impressed, “Law enforcement attended. There were law enforcement in this. That speaks volumes in how far this reservation is. Even though people don’t feel like you’re that far, you are. You’re dealing with historical trauma, generational trauma and genocide. That was instilled upon us, in our bloodline. We are just now getting into this process that has been long coming, like VAWA and all the work of the amazing women who changed legislation. They’re the ones who have helped me tell my story.”
“It’s time to end the ‘shh, don’t tell’ mentality,” Poor Bear said, acknowledging that many cases of abuse fail to get reported because of close-knit communities and family members. “It’s time to say, you know what, I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hear your voice.”
Poor Bear strongly encourages everyone to reach out, to speak up. A good place to start is by contacting an advocate. “It was an advocate that helped me and introduced me to Davis Sutherland. It was an advocate that helped me through the toughest times in my life, when my own family wouldn’t.
“One thing I did, was with a relative that stayed with me, who was in this situation. I invited her and her boyfriend to come and stay with me and I left my pamphlets all over the house, in the bathroom, in her laundry. Finally she said, is this me? And I said, I don’t know only you can answer that. Is it you? And that’s where she started.”
“We have a wealth of resources. Call an advocate, call and reach out to the mental health workers. National hotlines are also available. There is just so much information and so many places to go and to know that you are not alone. I want to tell them all, you are not alone.”
For information about the “Kind Hearted Woman” documentary, visit PBS.org
If I am a survivor of domestic violence or sexual abuse or know someone who is, how can I get help and support?
If you or someone you know is feeling threatened or experiencing abuse, contact service providers at one of these national hotlines for confidential support. Advocates can refer you to local resources in your state or territory.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Advocates are available for victims and anyone calling on their behalf to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, information, and referrals to agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Assistance is available in English and Spanish, with access to more than 170 languages through interpreter services.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Among its programs, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline. This nationwide partnership of more than 1,100 local rape treatment hotlines provides victims of sexual violence with free, confidential services around the clock.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
Serving the U.S., its territories, and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 170 languages.
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474 or 1-800-331-8453 (TTY) or text “loveis” to 77054
The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline provides 24/7 phone, text, and chat services designed for young people involved in dating abuse relationships as well as concerned friends, parents, teachers, clergy, law enforcement, and service providers.
A full resource list and hotlines for survivors of domestic and/or sexual abuse can be found at PBS.org
Washington, DC- On March 7, 2015, Tribal governments may elect to begin exercising jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, or violate a protection order against a Native victim on tribal lands.
“This is a major step forward to protect the safety of Native people, and we thank all Members of Congress for passing the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 and recognizing tribal authority,” said Brian Cladoosby, President of the National Congress of American Indians and Chairman of the Swinomish Tribe.
So far three Tribes, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the Tulalip Tribes have been able to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians under a Pilot Projectsince February 6, 2014. To date the Tribes have charged a total of 26 Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction cases.
“I want to encourage all tribal governments to get this law on their books,” said Juana Majel, Chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women. “The main goal is deterrence of domestic violence. On most reservations there are a handful of bad actors who have figured out how to slip between jurisdictional boundaries. They need to get the message. If they continue to assault our women we will prosecute and put them in jail.”
Violence against Native women has reached epidemic proportions. The root cause is a justice system that forced tribal governments to rely on distant federal — and in some cases, state —officials to investigate and prosecute misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Indians against Native women. However, outside law enforcement has proven ineffective in addressing misdemeanor level reservation-based domestic violence. The Justice Department has found that when non-Indian cases of domestic violence go uninvestigated and unpunished, offenders’ violence escalates. The 2013 VAWA Reauthorization authorizes tribal governments to investigate and prosecute all crimes of domestic and dating violence regardless of the race of the offender.
Tribes choosing to exercise Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction must provide the same rights guaranteed under the Constitution as in state court. This includes the appointment of attorneys for indigent defendants and a jury drawn from the entire reservation community. “Many tribal courts are already providing these protections to defendants, and it isn’t a big step to provide indigent counsel to all. Just like county courts, tribal courts can contract for public defenders on a case-by-case basis,” encouraged President Cladoosby.
When Irene Moses was 13, she fell into a relationship with a 24-year-old man and ran away from her foster home to be with him. At 14, she became pregnant with his child, and that’s when all the abuse began.
“He beat me, threw me down and threatened to kill me,” the Lummi Native recalled the terror. As is typical with many domestic violence victims, Moses stayed with her abuser for another eight years, even marrying him. During that nightmarish time, she said he caused a miscarriage, kidnapped her and their one-week-old daughter (their second child) and beat them both, and tried to sell Moses into sexual slavery.
Irene Moses: “I never lost hope in providing for my children.”
Despite all the violence waged against her and her children, the young mother always returned to her abuser because she had no other place to go. “There weren’t a lot of women’s shelters at the time that would take a teenager with two children,” and she said staying in an abusive home was preferable to being homeless.
As hard as it is to believe, Moses’ story is far from unusual. “We have known for a long time that lack of financial resources and not having a safe place to live was the No. 1 reason why people who are in an abusive relationship and leave have to eventually return,” said Judy Chen, director of strategic initiatives for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), a nonprofit network of more than 70 domestic violence programs in Washington that also includes a number of tribal programs.
WSCADV partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Domestic Violence Housing First (DVHF), a pilot program in Washington that helped 681 domestic violence victims and their children over the last three years—including Moses—find permanent, safe housing to rebuild their lives so that they would never have to live with their abusers again out of desperation.
Three tribes were chosen for the pilot project: the Lummi Nation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. “We have a great number of tribes in the state and are very aware of domestic violence on reservations,” said Chen, stating that 35 percent of the program participants were Native women. “Finding solutions that are rooted in Native communities is very important to us.”
Chen said the DVHF program was based on a tried-and-true model that has already worked successfully in the low-income housing and homeless field. “The philosophy is that housing is a human right and the problems in people’s lives that may have led to homelessness, such as losing a job or medical issues, are best dealt with when somebody is housed and they don’t have to worry day to day about where they are going to live.”
The four pillars of the program include:
—Temporary financial help with expenses such as rent, rental deposits, utilities and child care;
—locating housing for survivors and advocating for them with landlords;
—survivor-driven solutions to give victims voice and choice on where they want to live;
—establishing partnerships between advocates and community organizations, such as community colleges and car repair shops, to help get victims back on their feet.
WSCADV recently released its findings of a three-year study on the effectiveness of the DVHF project. According to Chen, the program was a huge success and made a big difference in many peoples’ lives.
“After 18 months, 96 percent of survivors were still in their own housing—even those with very low incomes,” said Chen. The study also reports that 84 percent of participants felt safer after participating in the DVHF program. “Some women said, ‘My kids don’t look out the window in fear anymore. Now they just look out the window to be looking.’”
Bear Hughes, a Spokane tribal council member, said that with the $250,000 his tribe received from the program, they were able to help 35 women (mostly Spokane enrolled Natives) get settled into permanent, safe housing over a period of three years. He said the biggest challenge was trying to find housing on the reservation, as many women felt safer surrounded by their families and a familiar Native community.
“We lack housing on the rez for victims. It’s something we are working on as a government. Maybe in about six more months to a year, we will have a domestic violence shelter here,” Hughes said hopefully.
Lummi Victims of Crime (LVOC), the first Native American domestic violence shelter in Washington, also received a generous $250,000 grant from the DVHF program. “Over the past three years, we were able to help 134 women move out of our shelter and transitional housing and into their own homes. Of those, only five have lost their homes. The rest still have them,” said Nikki Finkbonner, an LVOC coordinator. “I wish it was still going on, as there are so many other people we could have helped.”
Returning to Moses … she is one of the LVOC success stories. Now at 32, this woman who was abused for so much of her childhood is a happily married mother of six (two are step-children). She is safe in her own four-bedroom home in Bellingham, Washington, free from the fear of homelessness that had trapped her in an abusive relationship with a man who she now realizes was a sexual predator all along.
“I was turned down many times for housing because landlords thought I was a high risk. But I never lost hope in providing for my children,” said the very resilient Lummi Native. “Through the program, I also got me GED, took parenting classes, my kids went to school every day and I’m working on my degree in marine biology. I couldn’t have done any of this without DVHF.”
Contributing writer Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribes of Indians of Wisconsin.
A collection of old bedroom doors began to pile up beside our house. To the neighbors and anyone who walked by, it probably looked like a major home renovation was under way inside. In fact, that’s exactly what I told them.
But if anyone had looked a little closer, they would have noticed an odd similarity about each of those doors: They all had big, splintery holes in them toward the bottom, about the size of a man’s foot.
See, it wasn’t a home renovation after all. Inside my house, behind doors and windows that I would rush to close when the shouting started, a relationship was being ripped off its hinges. One by one, those doors had been kicked in during fits of rage by the man I lived with—and loved. He had a problem controlling his temper sometimes. At least that’s what he told me.
The real problem was that just about anything angered him. Inattentive waiters, surly sales clerks, slow drivers. Anyone who got in his way or didn’t give him due respect incurred his wrath. Especially me and my “controlling nature.”
Even though our relationship was splintering like that real and metaphorical pile of rotting wood outside, we continued to fake it and live up to everyone’s expectations of us as the happy little couple. We threw parties at our new home, invited friends over for barbecues and summer swims. No one really knew what was going on behind our slammed, kicked-in doors. By this time, I had been called a “fucking bitch” and “idiot” so many times that they now felt like endearments.
I had become the Great Pretender.
My sisters knew bits and pieces, but I didn’t tell them everything. I was too ashamed for them to see that their strong, feisty sister had been reduced to this shadowy nub of a woman. My oldest sister was not fooled.
“Lynn, he’s crushing your spirit,” she would say.
My neighbors were not fooled either. I would later learn that I didn’t need to frantically shut the windows to soundproof his rage because they could hear him screaming loudly and clearly at me anyway.
There are many reasons why domestic violence victims try to hide the abuse from family, neighbors and friends. For me, it was shame and embarrassment that my “man radar” had been so far off. I was the smart sister, so how could I be so stupid?
Vivian Clecak is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Human Options in Orange County, an emergency shelter for battered women and children. She understands all too well why I covered up my abuse.
“Ours is a culture that makes a big deal out of romance—the fancy wedding, the white dress,” she said. “Women are considered responsible for relationships. So when something goes wrong, like abuse, the woman is ashamed and embarrassed. Not only does she blame herself, but society also blames her. Again and again, society asks: ‘What’s wrong with her?’ ‘What did she do to cause it?’ ‘Why did she stay?’ ”
Clecak said there is another dynamic in play, too, about why women pretend everything is perfect at home when it is far from it.
“The couple’s bond is very strong even when there’s abuse,” she said. “He promises it will get better, and maybe it will for four or five months. She desperately wants to believe him because it’s her home and her family.”
If you suspect a friend is being abused, Clecak said, start a conversation.
“Don’t be afraid to ask if you are worried about someone,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to give them the hotline number. People will talk about it when someone cares enough to ask.”
In my case, I’m not sure that would have helped. I wasn’t ready to give up my fantasy of the white picket fence just yet. We still had children to bring into the world.
Let’s help empower each other by keeping the conversation going about domestic violence. We invite you to share your story of abuse with us on Twitter at #WhyThisNativeStayed and #WhyThisNativeLeft, as part of the campaign started by CNN a few weeks ago, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.
Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.
TULALIP – Every October the nation is splashed with a dose of bright pink, as result of a national campaign to bring attention to breast cancer. This campaign has resulted in an increased number of early detection screenings and a decrease in death rates since 1989. Since 1987, purple ribbons have begun to be associated with the month as well, as a result of the domestic violence awareness and education campaign. Both campaigns have resulted in successful lifesaving education. However, incidents of domestic violence are still at epidemic proportions.
To bring awareness to the dangers of intimate partner violence happening in her community, Heritage High School art teacher Cerissa Gobin, decided to use the platform of the popular social media trend ‘women crush Wednesdays,’ to educate and engage students about the dangers of domestic violence and teen-dating violence. Instead of picking a women who is admired for beauty as the crush of the day, Gobin is asking students to think about Native women who are missing or murdered as a result of intimate partner violence.
“In the spirit of ‘women crush Wednesday,’ I wanted the class to do some research on the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. It really is an issue that affects all us women around the world, because we, as Native women, are the ones that are the least represented and the ones that are highly victimized,” said Gobin, who is also a Tulalip tribal member.
As part of the in-class project, students are researching the current statistics of aboriginal women murdered and missing in Canada, along with the current statistics of domestic violence in Indian country. Students are also learning about dating violence experienced in their own age group. Students will then use the research they have completed to create a piece using art mediums such as poetry, multi-media, sculpture, photography, painting, drawing, or sculpture. The project will need to include statistics and what the student has learned.
In support of the student project, Tulalip Tribes Councilwoman Deborah Parker gave a special presentation about her work in educating the public about the plight of First Nations women and her work regarding Violence Against Women Act.
“It is not an easy conversation that our fathers or even mothers have had with our young men,” said Parker, to a dozen male and female students during her presentation on September 25. “How do we treat our women? Sometimes we see how our dad treated our mom and that is the way we treat our partners, or how our moms treated our dads, because domestic violence can go both ways. We have broken systems here in Tulalip, but also throughout our indigenous communities. It is a difficult issue to talk about. Nobody wants to talk about sexual assault and physical abuse.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “on average, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States.” These statistics mean that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some form of domestic violence from their intimate partner, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or nationality.
In Indian country the statistics are even more alarming. According to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control study, “39 percent of Native women in the U.S. identified as victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, a rate higher than any other race of ethnicity surveyed.” The report also points out that most crimes go unreported due to a belief that nothing will be done.
According to the CDC teen-dating violence is defined as, “physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking.” The CDC also states that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men in high school reported experiencing abuse from their partner while dating. And “many teens do not report abuse because they are afraid to tell friends or family. Teens often think some behaviors, like teasing and name calling are a ‘normal’ part of a relationship.”
Although many school districts, including the Marysville School District, have a zero tolerance policy towards bullying in any form, many incidents of dating violence that happen within school boundaries are never reported.
“It is not only my goal, but the goal of the Tulalip Board of Directors and the goal of our Tribe, that we stop this type of abuse. We stop the madness and we stop putting down each other, whether you are male or female. To our men, if you think this issue is not about you, it is absolutely about you. Part of your role historically as Native men is to promote our women. It is not to harm. It is not to hurt, to disregard, but to uphold our women,” said Parker.
“I don’t want to see our kids bullied. I don’t want to see our young kids raped and abused. People ask me why I am so passionate about this, it is because I was one of those kids. I was one of those kids who were abused. You are the heartbeat of our nation. You are the heartbeat of our people. I don’t want you to walk away from here today feeling disempowered. You are never alone. We stand together,” said Parker.
For more information about teen-dating violence, please visit the website www.loveisrespect.org. If you feel you may be a victim of domestic violence or have questions, please contact the 24/7 hotline at 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522. You may also contact the Tulalip Legacy of Healing Advocacy Center & Safe House at 360-716-4100.
Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402: email@example.com
FARGO, N.D. — Federal authorities have named recipients of $3 million in grants to address violence against women in rural and tribal communities in the oil patch of North Dakota and Montana.
The money from the Office on Violence Against Women will be used to help provide services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in the Bakken region, which has seen an increase in population and crime because of the oil boom.
Victims in a “vast rural region like the Bakken” have trouble accessing life-saving services, Associate Attorney General Tony West said.
“With this new, targeting funding, tribes and local communities will be better equipped to respond to the increased need for mental health services, legal assistance, housing and training,” West said.
The grants will be divided among the First Nations Women’s Alliance and Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana, the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services, and the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“The organizations that will receive funding through this project play a critical role in addressing violence against women in the Bakken region,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who organized visits to the oil patch by two of the nation’s drug czars. “By bringing top administration officials to North Dakota to hear firsthand about the emerging challenges, great strides have been made to make sure local law enforcement and organizations receive needed support to address these challenges and help our state maintain our treasured quality of life.”
Department of Justice officials also announced that the Fort Beck and Fort Berthold reservations will each receive three-year, $450,000 grants to pay for tribal prosecutors who will be cross-designated as special U.S. attorneys.
The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was heralded by President Barack Obama as a significant step for Native American women because it allows tribal courts to prosecute certain crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans and enforce civil protection orders against them.
Before the bill passed the Senate, however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, added Section 910, known as the “Alaska exception,” that exempted Alaska Native tribes. Murkowski argued that her provision did not change the impact of the bill since even without it, the bill pertained only to “Indian country,” where tribes live on reservations and have their own court systems. As defined by federal law, there is almost no Indian country in Alaska.
Now, after pressure from Alaska Natives, Murkowski is reversing her position and trying to repeal the provision she inserted.
The senator’s change of mind is the subject of much debate in Alaska, with state officials saying that ending the exception won’t make any difference for Alaska Natives because it only applies to Indian country and the state already takes action to protect Native women and children. Tribes and the Justice Department, on the other hand, argue that repealing the provision will have a significant impact.
Associate Attorney General Tony West, who called for the repeal of the “Alaska exemption,” says that the state needs to enforce tribal civil protection orders in cases of domestic violence and that the legislative change would send a strong message about tribal authority.
“It’s important to send a very clear signal that tribal authority means something, that tribal authority is an important component to helping to protect Native women and Native children from violence,” said West, who testified in June before a hearing in Anchorage of the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. “Those civil protective orders can help to save lives.”
Murkowski’s provision, which was originally an amendment she co-sponsored with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in 2012, was supported by state officials. Begich has also changed his position since then.
Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty and Gary Folger, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, have said that Alaska is already enforcing civil protection orders issued by tribes to try to keep one person from stalking or committing abuse or violence against another person.
But Murkowski’s “Alaska exception” reopened a contentious debate surrounding criminal jurisdiction over Alaska Native villages, and it has created confusion among law enforcement officials.
Alaska Native women protested Murkowski’s exception, and the Indian Law and Order Commission called it “unconscionable.”
“Given that domestic violence and sexual assault may be a more severe public safety problem in Alaska Native communities than in any other tribal communities in the United States, this provision adds insult to injury,” the commission said.
Troy Eid, a former U.S. attorney and chairman of the commission, said that only one Alaska Native village has a women’s shelter. He and the other commissioners were stunned by what they heard in remote Alaska Native communities, he said.
“We went to villages where every woman told us they had been raped,” Eid said. “Every single woman.”
On her Facebook page last year, Murkowski wrote: “It hurts my heart that some Alaskans may think I do not fully support protecting Native women from violence with every fiber of my being.”
“In Alaska, we have one, and only one reservation: Metlakatla,” Murkowski wrote. “The other 228 tribes have been described by the U.S. Supreme Court as ‘tribes without territorial reach.’ The expansion of jurisdiction over non-members of a tribe is a controversial issue in our state, and what works in the Lower 48, won’t necessarily work here.”
Murkowski said she still has concerns about repealing the exemption but said in a statement: “We must turn the tide of the rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse in our state.”
Opponents of the reauthorization of a federal law passed last year say it has created a dangerous situation for Alaskan domestic violence victims and are urging lawmakers to support a repeal.
Proponents of the original 1994 Violence Against Women Act say it was signed into law with the purpose of providing more protection for domestic violence victims and keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal and territorial jurisdictions in the U.S.
According to the White House, the VAWA has made a difference, saying that intimate partner violence declined by 67 percent from 1993 to 2010, more victims now report domestic violence, more arrests have been made and all states impose criminal sanctions for violating a civil protection order.
Last year the law was reauthorized, clarifying a court decision that ruled on a case involving civil jurisdiction for non–tribal members and amending the law to recognize tribal civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce protection orders “involving any person,” including non-Natives.
But almost all Alaska tribes were excluded from the amendment, with only the Metlakatla Indian community from Alaska included under the 2013 law. The rest of Alaska remains under the old law.
The change has created confusion, opponents say, particularly in cases when there is a 911 call about enforcing a protective order.
The reauthorization highlighted an ongoing debate about Native communities and tribal courts’ and governments’ jurisdiction, particularly in cases of policing and justice.
The reauthorization made sense, according to Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty, who noted that Alaska has always been treated differently because of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In exchange for 40 million acres of land and about $1 billion, he said, tribes forfeited reservations and the notion of Indian country to form Native corporations.
He said the state needs to find better ways to collaborate with institutions in small communities to provide better protection and justice but disagrees with giving pockets of tribal authority throughout Alaska.
“We do have an issue with violence and domestic violence,” he said. “We have a challenge in providing safety.”
But Geraghty said he has never heard of a situation when a victim was in danger because of confusion over jurisdiction.
“There’s nothing in the act that expands or retracts the jurisdiction of tribal courts,” he said. “If tribal courts had jurisdiction before, they do now. Troopers are not lawyers. If they are faced with a situation, they are going to protect the public. These concerns are overblown.”
‘A cloud over Alaska’
Lloyd Miller, an attorney who works on Indian rights and tribal jurisdiction litigation, disagrees and said things did change with the 2013 reauthorization.
“What he’s saying is that an Alaska village only has the authority to issue a protective order if that man is a member of the tribe. They can’t if he’s from the neighboring tribe,” he said. “Why would we not want to have Alaska villages have all the tools to protect women from domestic violence?”
Voluck agreed. “Does it really matter if a woman is hit in a mall somewhere or the south corner of where the tribe lives?” he said.
Opponents of the Alaska exemption recently urged a task force convened by Attorney General Eric Holder to study the effects of violence on Native American children to support the repeal of Section 910 of the law.
“VAWA creates a cloud over Alaska, and the last thing women and children need is a delay in an emergency,” said Voluck. “A matter of minutes can mean life or death. It’s unequal protection under the law for a very vulnerable part of the population.”
Experts attested to a number of facts, including that Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other American women. About 140 villages have no state law enforcement. Eighty have absolutely no law enforcement. One-third of Alaska communities do not have road access.
It’s a serious issue for communities, said Valerie Davidson, a task force member who lives in Alaska. “Even if you only have 300 people, you still need law enforcement,” she said.
The debate continues, this time in Congress as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee works on legislation, which includes a provision repealing Section 910 of the 2013 reauthorization. Geraghty and the governor oppose a repeal, but the U.S. attorney general’s office has voiced its support.
Associate U.S. Attorney General Tony West attended the Alaska task force hearing and said arguments about the scope of authority of Alaska Native villages and tribes shouldn’t get in the way of protecting Native children from harm.
“If there are steps we can take that will help move the needle in the direction for victims, we need to do it,” he said. “When a tribal court issues an order, the state ought to enforce it. If not, the orders are worth nothing more than the paper they’re written on.”
More than just symbolic
Repealing the law won’t resolve the multilayered issues of jurisdiction, but it would be a step in the right direction, West added.
“It is more than just symbolic,” he said. “Repeal of Section 910 is an important step that can help protect Alaska Native victims of that violence and, significantly, the children who often witness it, and it can send a message that tribal authority and tribal sovereignty matters, that the civil protection orders tribal courts issue ought to be respected and enforced.”
The Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence will make a recommendation to Holder by late October.
“Alaska is frozen in time,” Voluck said. “Why in the world would you hold the worst state when it comes to domestic violence in the old law? Forty-nine other states have figured out how to work with their tribal courts. Let’s work together. People are getting hurt and dying. That’s why I’m upset.”
JUNEAU — Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty criticized a federal commission report on criminal justice in the Bush, declaring its suggestions that tribes should have autonomy for policing and holding court was little more than an invitation to create reservations in Alaska.
“It is an over simplification to suggest that forming reservations where tribes can exert exclusive jurisdiction is a solution to the problems that afflict Alaska’s Native peoples,” Geraghty told the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee on its second hearing into the November report by the U.S. Indian Law & Order Commission. “I disagree with many of their recommendations but not with the problem they have identified.”
That problem is Alaska’s high rates of domestic and sexual violence, and the glaring lack of law enforcement and security for villagers. The commission, mandated by Congress and appointed in 2010 by the White House and congressional leaders of both parties, reported its findings in November. It devoted a whole chapter on Alaska’s troubles, the only state it singled out for such treatment.
On the phone from Denver, the commission chairman, Troy Eid, told the committee that Geraghty was mischaracterizing the report’s conclusion. In calling for greater tribal autonomy, the commission wasn’t seeking reservation status for Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes, only one of which is on a reservation — Metlakatla.
Rather, Eid said, the commission said the state should recognize tribes as sovereign governments and that “Indian Country” — the federal term for describing where indigenous people have inherent authority — exists in Alaska. The should state encourage local governments to take over policing in the Bush and not insist on centralized, top-down control from regional hubs.
Geraghty said the state was experimenting in the Interior’s Tanana region with allowing tribal courts to have jurisdiction over non tribal members for some misdemeanors — but only when the defendant agrees, and only by treating the matters as civil cases without the possibility of jail time.
“My differences with the report should not obscure the most fundamental point: there’s more we can do and should be doing with tribes and in tribal courts in particular, to make these communities safer — I don’t quarrel with that point one iota,” Geraghty said.
But Geraghty’s term for the Tanana agreements — a delegation of authority — itself brought criticism from another witness, David Voluck, a tribal court judge and co-author of one of the leading books on laws affecting Alaska Natives.
“I vote that we reform the name of these agreements from limited delegation agreements to intergovernmental agreements,” Voluck said. “Even the word ‘delegation’ has a flavor of paternalism — that ‘OK, we’re going to let you do this now.'”
Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, asked Geraghty about how tribal courts now deal with cases in which a non-member of the tribe is a party.
Geraghty said that issue mainly comes up in child welfare cases, when tribes assume jurisdiction if the child is a member, even if a parent is not.
“There’s a case pending before the Alaska Supreme Court now involving the ability of a tribal court to exert jurisdiction over someone who’s never lived in the community and is not a member of the tribe, and the gentleman objected to tribal court jurisdiction on that basis, and he had his parental rights terminated,” Geraghty said.
Geraghty said he was referring to the case of Edward Parks, a member of the Stevens Village tribe who was convicted in state court in Fairbanks of kidnapping and brutally beating his girlfriend. Their child, “S.P.,” was enrolled in Minto and the Minto tribal court terminated Parks’ parental rights. The state intervened on his behalf in the Supreme Court, seeking to void the tribal court order declaring him an unfit parent because Minto shouldn’t have jurisdiction over him.
Geraghty told the committee he expected the case would clarify the rights of non-tribal members in tribal court.
Voluck testified that the state, by its challenges of tribal court orders, was actually showing hostility to tribal courts.
“One of the courts I work for issues something as controversial as child support orders, for children in need,” Voluck said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. “We’re not locking up white people, I don’t have an electric chair, I’m not doing anything that’s frightening. I’m not taxing, I’m not zoning, it has nothing to do with land and everything to do with Native children.”
“Your state is battling us tooth and nail and we are now in the Supreme Court over whether it’s kosher for me to issue a child support order for a tribal child. This, ladies and gentlemen of this committee, I posit is a grave waste of your resources.”
The co-chairs of the committee, Reps. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, and Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said they would continue to examine ways the Legislature could improve criminal justice in the Bush.