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Honoring Our Native American Heritage

Throughout November, the Office on Violence Against Women has been commemorating native heritage.  We have reflected on the extremely high rates of violence native peoples experience, recognized recent accomplishments and acknowledged the steep hill we still need to climb to ensure that all Americans live in a country that is free of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Over the past few years, I have heard countless harrowing accounts of violence experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives.  A recent empirical study funded by the National Institute of Justice has documented and affirmed those stories.  The study, by Andre Rosay, Ph.D., at the University of Alaska, found that 84 percent of women and 82 percent of men who are American Indians and Alaska Natives have experienced some form of violence, that female victims are more likely to need services but less likely to have access to those services and that most Native victims have experienced at least one act of violence by a non-Indian perpetrator.

Watch a 6-minute video about the study, listen to a panel discussion or read the main findings.

How do we address this violence?  First and foremost, we listen, we respect tribal sovereignty and we act mindfully with regard to the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes.  These core principles inform all of our efforts.

OVW places the utmost importance on regular consultations and listening sessions with tribes because we understand that listening to tribal leaders and representatives and learning from them is absolutely critical to fostering a positive and productive government-to-government relationship.

The Justice Department has hosted annual tribal consultations on violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women for more than a decade.  At each consultation, tribal leaders give us their recommendations about how to improve federal support of tribal governments’ efforts to combat violence against women.  Their recommendations help us shape and implement federal grant programs and other initiatives.  I hope to have a strong turnout for this year’s Annual Tribal Consultation in December on the lands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in California.

We hold other listening sessions, too, including one in October at the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives with leaders from more than 220 Alaska Native Villages.  Also in October, we participated in a listening session at the White House that was specifically focused on working with Canada and Mexico to find cross-border solutions to the high numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Since 2010, the Justice Department has tried to make  the grant process flexible enough to meet the needs of tribes through the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS).  This year, CTAS awarded 236 grants totally $102 million to 131 groups of American Indians and Alaska Natives to enhance and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts.

In addition, OVW works with tribes to assist in the implementation of two key pieces of federal legislation that enhance the federal government’s ability to collaborate with tribes: the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.  Both laws contribute to strengthening public safety and prosecution of perpetrators on a government-to-government basis. 

Read the announcement about the second assumption of concurrent jurisdiction under the Tribal Law and Order Act and the announcement about tribes who are implementing the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction provisions of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.  This is the second year that OVW is issuing a solicitation to aid tribes in implementing and exercising the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction provisions.  Learn more on OVW’s open solicitations webpage.

But despite the accomplishments, the barriers to providing services and making a significant dent in the violence in tribal communities remain great.  These barriers include limited or delayed law enforcement response, lack of community-based Native advocacy services and limited or no access to services for sexual assault forensic exams.

The bottom line: OVW is committed to continuing to fight to decrease the numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native women who become victim to violence, to strengthen the capacity of tribal governments to respond to violent crimes and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

Updated April 27, 2017