An empty red dress is seen at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington as part of The REDress Project, an installation by Métis artist Jaime Black that raises awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

House adds more Indian Country provisions to Violence Against Women Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Debate opened on a bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act amid doubts about its future in a Congress divided along party lines.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have more than enough votes to pass H.R.1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The bill expands on the landmark tribal jurisdiction provisions of the 2013 version of the law and even more favorable Indian Country provisions to address issues like the #MMIW crisis were adopted by the chamber on Wednesday.

"My state of New Mexico ranked number one for the highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women cases," Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who is first two Native women in Congress, said as one of her amendments was approved by a voice vote.

But Republicans have already raised numerous objections to the effort, which they say is moving forward largely without their input. They tried to remove the tribal jurisdiction provisions from existing law last month and said H.R.1585 won't get anywhere in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by their party.

"The fact that we have rushed to consider this flawed bill is particularly disappointing when you consider the fact that this bill will not become law," Rep. Ben Cline (R-Virginia) said on Monday evening as the bill was being prepared for debate on the floor

Even some tribal advocates have voiced doubts due to divisions on Capitol Hill. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican majority leader of the Senate, frequently declines to take up legislation that lacks support from his party.

"The Majority Leader in the Senate decides what gets put on the floor," attorney Edward Ayoob told leaders of the United South and Eastern Tribes as they met in Washington, D.C., last month to discuss VAWA. "It's a harder argument for us to present to Leader McConnell to put it on the floor if its not bipartisan."

Against the partisan backdrop, the House on Wednesday approved amendments to strengthen the Indian Country provisions of H.R.1585. Some of them were even drafted by Republicans.

"Alaska Native comprise about 19 percent of the state population yet are 47 percent of the reported rape survivors," Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said as one of his amendments was included in the measure. "Yet Native villages currently lack any efficient tools to criminally prosecute the offenders."

With the close of the first day of debate, the following provisions of interest were added to H.R.1585. All were approved by voice votes, an indication of their non-controversial as well as bipartisan nature:

Submitted by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska): Changes the definition of land eligible for a tribe’s jurisdiction to include all land within any Alaska Native village, for the Alaska tribal jurisdiction pilot project.

Submitted by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona): Expands the definition of domestic violence in the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the bill, to include violence against or witnessed by a child under the age of 18, or an elder (as defined by tribal law).

Submitted by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona): Alleviates the costs tribes incur due to the expansion of criminal jurisdiction. Further this amendment provides language allowing the Attorney General to award grants to tribes to improve law enforcement, tribal court personnel and criminal codes.

Submitted by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona): Directs the GAO to submit a report on the response of law enforcement agencies to reports of missing or murdered Indians, including recommendations for legislative solutions.

Submitted by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland): Creates a grant program for States, local governments, Indian tribes, and domestic violence victim service providers and coalitions for technical assistance and training in the operation or establishment of a lethality assessment program (LAP).

Submitted by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico): Provides for the inclusion of victim advocates/resources in state courts for urban American Indians/Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs) where 71 percent of the Native American population resides due to federal relocation and termination policies. This will be offered as an amendment to the DOJ STOP Formula Grant Program for states (authorized by 34 U.S.C § 10441) to address the lack of victim resources for Native American women in urban areas (who experience disproportional rates of sexual/domestic violence) since this group falls outside of the eligibility for the DOJ Victim of Crimes Act Tribal Set-Aside funding, which is only available for tribal programs within reservation boundaries.

Submitted by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico): Clarifies that federal criminal information database sharing extends to entities designated by a tribe as maintaining public safety within a tribe’s territorial jurisdiction that have no federal or state arrest authority.

Debate will resume on H.R.1585 on Thursday before the House takes a final vote on the measure.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
House moves closer to passage of Violence Against Women Act (April 3, 2019)
'What she say, it be law': Tribes protected their women before being stripped of sovereignty (March 25, 2019)
National Museum of the American Indian hosts 'Safety for Our Sisters' symposium (March 21, 2019)
'An abomination': Republicans try to strip tribal jurisdiction from Violence Against Women Act (March 18, 2019)
Advocates call for funding, data to find missing, murdered Native women (March 18, 2019)
Native women leaders lined up for hearing on missing and murdered sisters (March 12, 2019)
'It could be me': Native American teen teaches self-defense to keep indigenous kids safe (March 11, 2019)
House subcommittee schedules hearing on missing and murdered indigenous women (March 8, 2019)
Native Sun News Today: Pipeline opponents and advocates warn of dangers of man camps (March 8, 2019)
Cronkite News: Attention finally being paid to missing and murdered sisters (March 6, 2019)
MSU News: Powwow dedicated to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (March 4, 2019)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation celebrates the women who make us strong (March 4, 2019)
'Shameful': Congress fails to take action on missing and murdered Indigenous women (January 10, 2019)
Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo (December 7, 2018)
High Country News: It's business as usual for crime on tribal lands (November 29, 2018)
Trump administration argues against tribal sovereignty in Supreme Court case (November 27, 2018)
Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo (November 2, 2018)
Trending in News
More Headlines