Jennifer Denetdale: Navajo Nation commission examines gender violence

Jennifer Denetdale. Photo from Dickinson College

Jennifer Denetdale, a member of the Navajo Nation, announces that the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission has undertaken a study of domestic violence, sexual assault, anti-gay policies and other forms of gender violence:
As an educator, scholar, and a Diné woman, I live within the structures of violence that are part of the Navajo Nation. I have come to recognize just how entrenched patriarchal violence is, so much so that it feels normal to the point that we often remain silent in its presence. Gendered violence is present in how we treat each other, how our criminal justice system looks away from the assaults on women and Navajo LGBTQ, how federal prosecutors decline a significant number of cases presented for prosecution, and in how there is no tracking or attending to cases that may be LGBTQ hate related. Some people have made the observation that on reservation lands such as Navajo, criminal activity is rampant. The Navajo Nation’s Violence Against Family Act, passed in 2012, declares that the legislation intends to “provide for the safety and protection of family members from violence.” The Act details what kinds of violence, including assaults on family members, stalking, threats, etc., are subjected to penalties, defines victims’ rights to fairness, compassion, and advises prompt legal and just actions. It also states that violence is not a part of Navajo tradition. This legislation was ten years in the making and calls attention to the on-going anti-Indianism of the American legal system that profoundly limits tribal courts to penalizing perpetuators to no more than a year of jail time and a maximum of $5,000 in fines. Part of the silence surrounding gender violence is the result of our own inaction, but it is also the colonizing government’s limitations on our nation’s ability to protect its people. The Tribal Law and Order Act (2010) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (2013) seek to restore safety to Native women, yet there is still an urgent need to restore full criminal authority to tribal nations.

. . .

Domestic violence, sexual assault, anti-gay policies, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and anti-queer bullying are all forms of gender violence that pervade our family, work, and social lives. Having spent years on the topic of gender violence and searching for the data to delineate the amount and nature of this violence, I am pleased that the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission has agreed to undertake a study to gather the data.

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Jennifer Denetdale: Hard Times in the Land of Plenty (Indian Country Today 5/5)

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