(Washington, DC) – Today, July 13, a group of noted Native American and Alaska Native women advocates will meet with federal lawmakers in Washington, DC, to advocate for stronger policies and increased funding to combat sexual violence against Native women and ensure victims’ access to care and justice.
The meetings come as President Obama announced a series of initiatives, designed in consultation with tribal leaders, to address the underlying causes of rising crime and a breakdown of justice in Indian Country – particularly rape, child sexual assault, domestic assault and beatings – that in part stem from neglect by federal prosecutors and investigators.
The advocates are all members of Amnesty International USA’s (AIUSA’s) Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council, many of whom were consultants or contributors to the organization’s groundbreaking report, Maze of Injustice: the Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Assault in the U.S.A. They include Charon Asetoyer, chair of the Advisory Council and executive director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center; Sarah Deer, William Mitchell College of Law and the eighth American Indian woman law professor in the United States; Juskwa Burnett, an advocate currently working in Oklahoma; Denise Morris, president and CEO of the Alaska Native Justice Center; and Victoria Ybanez, executive director for Red Wind Consulting, Inc.
“Native women will continue to walk the halls of Congress and meet with high-ranking government officials as long as our human rights are being violated,” said Asetoyer. “When rape is allowed to occur within our communities with the knowledge of public officials who are not doing everything in their power to stop this atrocity, it is time to take action.”
While in Washington, the Advisory Council members will meet with members of Congress and administration officials to advocate for measures that would help protect Native American and Alaska Native women from sexual violence, remove obstacles to justice in these cases, and seek needed funding to help implement such measures. The meetings are one in a series of initiatives following the launch of Maze of Injustice, which described how Native women suffer alarmingly high levels of rape, often at the hands of non-Native perpetrators.
One focus of the trip will be strengthening an FY ’10 Senate appropriations bill that earmarks funds to combat sexual violence. The House version of the bill, which was recently passed out of subcommittee, called for an unprecedented $64.4 billion to bolster law enforcement and combat violence against women in Indian Country. The group will also advocate passage of The Tribal Law and Order Act, which clarifies jurisdiction between federal, state, tribal and local governments, increases coordination between their law enforcement agencies for responding to violent crime against Native Americans, requires U.S. Attorneys to collect criminal data, documents the reasons for declining to prosecute, and shares criminal history information with state and tribal officials.
“Native women are still suffering sexual assault at rates far disproportionate to women in the United States generally,” said Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA, who is joining Council members to meet lawmakers. “Until Native women receive equal justice under the law, the U.S. government must show its will to effect real change, not just by appropriating funds but by changing policies and laws. The crimes perpetrated against Native women are more than statistical horrors; they are historical horrors that have been allowed to occur because of years of our country’s subjugation of Native peoples. Congress has made great strides in the last two years, but significantly more work is needed until Native women truly have the law on their side.”
In the two years since the report’s launch, Congress has made some significant strides toward improving infrastructure in Indian Country and helping combat sexual violence against Native women, including holding a number of hearings in Washington and in the field that have involved input from Native women advocates. The FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act included an increase of $235 million for the Indian Health Service (IHS) and $85 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), with $25 million for tribal law enforcement in Indian country to be targeted to addressing violence against women. The Tribal Law and Order Act was reintroduced this year. And President Obama’s stimulus package allocated $990 million to improve infrastructure and healthcare in Indian Country. Still, these improvements, while unprecedented, have not yet led to actual change for Native women on the ground.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.