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Lawmakers seek protections for Native women, children

Unraveling jurisdictional hurdles and improving infrastructure in Indian Country are among the solutions members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are offering to protect Native American women and children from domestic abuse.

Ashlynne Mike

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland have offered provisions to protect Native women in the Violence Against Women Act, the reauthorization of which now rests in the Senate after passing the House.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján shared the story of Ashlynne Mike, a 7-year-old Navajo girl who was kidnapped and murdered, in making a pitch for broadband service in a meeting with President Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer at the White House.

Udall and Haaland offer frightening statistics behind their efforts:

•  Eighty-four percent of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime.

•  In some tribal communities, Native women are murdered at rates more than 10 times the national average.

• One out of three Native women has been raped.

“Behind these statistics are thousands of faces – thousands of lives, disrupted, shattered, cut short,” Udall told a news conference last Tuesday.

“This is about life and safety, that parents would be able to make a phone call to law enforcement when a child goes missing, when a loved one goes missing,” Luján said in a video following his White House meeting. “If someone is taken or kidnapped, maybe that phone can send the right signal. We have to make sure we get this done. We have make sure we get this done for rural America.”

Haaland said in a recent op-ed with the Guardian that the Amber Alert for Ashlynne wasn’t issued for 10 hours, and told the Journal in an earlier interview that communication between families and law enforcement agencies was critical in cases of domestic violence.

“That means communicating and sharing information, so that these cases can be tracked, is critical, but right now communication between jurisdictions is limited and often times non-existent,” Haaland said.

She said Indian Country hasn’t been adequately funded for decades.

She and Udall are seeking federal funding for infrastructure needs for tribal areas. Udall said funding was not only needed for internet, but also for road and school projects. And he said that was needed not only for Indian Country, but for other rural areas in New Mexico as well.

Udall is pushing legislation to remove some of the jurisdictional hurdles law enforcement officials face following a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In the Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe case, the court held that Indian Tribes cannot exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations.

“This ruling undermined the sovereign right of tribes to enforce the law on tribal lands. It undercut public safety in Indian Country. And it let violent offenders escape prosecution,” the senator said.

Udall pushed for provisions in the VAWA in 2013 that restored tribal authority in domestic violence cases. But he said gaps remain “that must be closed to stop violence against Native women.”

He said VAWA didn’t address acts committed against children, sexual acts beyond domestic violence and wasn’t clear about tribal jurisdiction about attempts of domestic violence.

Udall also said protections for law enforcement attempting to halt domestic violence were needed. He is urging the passing of legislation that addresses those areas.

In addition to calling for the reauthorization of VAWA, he is pushing for the passage of the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act and Justice for Native Survivors Act.

Haaland is also a sponsor of the Not Invisible Act of 2019, which would establish an advisory committee on violent crime comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, and survivors to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice.

“Every woman deserves to feel safe, but women in Native communities are going missing without a trace,” Haaland said.

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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