Senator Akaka Introduces Bill To Protect Native Women From Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault

U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) has introduced S.1763, the Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women (SAVE Native Women) Act. The bill would provide Indian Country with jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian lands, improve the Native programs under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and improve data gathering programs to better understand and respond to sex trafficking of Native women.

Senators Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), Jeff Bingaman (D- New Mexico), Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Max Baucus (D-Montana) are cosponsors of the bill.

"According to a study by the Department of Justice, two-in-five women in Native communities will suffer domestic violence, and one-in-three will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. To make matters worse, four out of five perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian, and cannot be prosecuted by tribal governments. This has contributed to a growing sense of lawlessness on Indian reservations and a perpetuation of victimization of Native women," said Senator Akaka.

"American Indian women suffer disproportionately from domestic violence and sexual assault, and the Violence Against Women Act must be updated to more effectively address their unique needs," said Senator Franken.

"This legislation works to ensure services are available to survivors of assault in native communities, repair a fragmented criminal justice system, and give tribes more power to prosecute those who are committing such heinous crimes against women," said Senator Udall.

"By strengthening tribal jurisdiction we are empowering our Native communities with the tools they need to fight back against instances of violence," said Senator Begich.

"We cannot let the next generation of young Native women grow up as their mothers have-in unbearable situations that threaten their security, stability, and even their lives," said Senator Akaka.

"With the introduction of this legislation, the sponsors are sending a clear message that Congress intends to build on the incredible momentum of VAWA to ensure that the epidemic of violence against Native women will end in our lifetime," said Sarah Deer, Amnesty International's Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council Member.

"Senator Akaka's SAVE Native Women Act has the potential to restore safety and justice for American Indian and Alaska Native women. It offers American Indian tribes the opportunity to increase life-saving protections for women living within tribal jurisdiction," said Terri Henry, Co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Task Force on Violence Against Women.

"This is an epidemic. It is unacceptable. And, we must stand against it," said Senator Akaka. "I am committed to working with the co-sponsors, tribal leaders, NCAI and others who diligently work to protect at-risk Native women, to pass this much needed legislation."

Senator Akaka's floor statement introducing the bill is available HERE

An audio file of Senator Akaka's comments is available HERE.

NW Tribal Groups Receive $32 Million from HUD

The U. S. Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") Secretary announced that HUD is awarding more than $32 million in stimulus funds to tribal and native organizations in Alaska, Oregon and Washington state.

Accroding to reports, approximately seven tribal organizations in Washington state will receive nearly $17 million in stimulus funds. Five Alaska Native organizations will receive $13 million, and almost $3 million will go to one tribe in Oregon. The money is to improve housing and stimulate community development.

Nationwide, HUD is awarding 61 grants, totaling $132 million to Native American and Native Alaska communities.

 

More Historical Knowledge and Cultural Competency for Politicians, Please

Do politicians know enough about the constituencies they represent when examining laws and making important decisions? According to attendees at the new Legislature's Native American Caucus, the answer is no. One Navajo lawmaker pointed out that in Arizona, for example, lack of knowledge about Native American history hinders politicians from making informed decisions as they deal with important issues that effect the state's tribes.

The Caucus is a bipartisan forum for legislators to discuss issues facing Arizona's twenty one recognized tribes. The discussion centered around the importance of increasing the amount of contact politicians have with Indian nations and providing more cultural competency training. New Mexico recently passed a law that requires state employees who have contact with Indian nations to undergo training in Native American culture. The law even requires the governor to meet with tribes at least once a year. Arizona is looking at adopting a similar law.

 

It will be interesting to see whether or not Arizona follows New Mexico’s lead. Having this kind of valuable contact and deeper understanding of tribal needs undoubtedly makes it much easier for New Mexico’s politicians to maintain healthy relationships with tribes, because they are on the ground level and understand critical issues by seeing them with their own eyes and learning from tribal leadership.

 

All politicians should be educated about the foundations and structures of Native governments. Perhaps if Arizona follow suit so will other states as well. It is too early to tell but will be an interesting initiative to follow in the years to come.

Facebook Legal Policy Bans "Fake" Native American Names

Facebook

The popular internet site Facebook is celebrating its fifth birthday - but not everyone is invited to the party.

Most users of the social networking site spend their time interacting with their friends and posting news about their daily lives. Seldom noticed are the legal disclaimers and requirements set forth at the bottom of the web pages. Facebook’s terms of use require members to agree that they will not “provide any false personal information” on the site or write anything that might “intimidate” other users.

Robin Kills The Enemy, a computer technician who lives on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, used the site for her own social networking – until the day she logged on and realized she no longer had any “friends”. The site administrators at Facebook had suspended her account and accused her of using a false name, in violation of the site’s terms of use. Despite being in the middle of planning a trip with her friends through the site, Ms. Kills The Enemy was compelled to send in copies of government identification papers in order to reconnect.  Melissa Holds The Enemy had the same experience and was banned from the site for a month, while Jeremy Brave-Heart was not even allowed to register until he sent in identification papers.

When questioned about its policy, Facebook Privacy and Public Policy spokesman Simon Axten told the Argus Leader newspaper that “Facebook is based on a real name culture. This helps create an environment where people are accountable for their actions and behavior. Fake names and false identities are actually a violation of the Terms of Use, and we disable fake accounts when they're reported to us by our users."

While promoting the accuracy of information on a website is certainly legitimate, a legal policy and cultural interpretation thereof that bans numerous Native Americans from one of the world’s most popular internet sites is troubling and legally unsustainable. In an era when computers can recognize human voices and analyze DNA, it is certainly not beyond the capacity of technology to recognize Native names that have been in use for centuries. It is nevertheless promising to note that legendary college and professional quarterback Sonny Sixkiller’s Facebook page currently remains active, and that a webpage dedicated to ending discrimination against Native names has been started…on Facebook.
 

Teaching Indian Languages Preserves Heritage

The Seattle Times recently ran an article entitled, "Saving Native Languages."  According to the article, there is a diminishing number of elders whose native tongue is their first language and tribes are racing to preserve their languages by teaching it to the youth in their communities.

In order to preserve this crucial aspect of their heritage, elders have compiled dictionaries for languages that were entirely oral; recording elders; transcribing tapes; and especially, teaching the next generation of speakers. They have even set up classrooms and prepared teachers to pass on the gift of the native language. At Tulalip Elementary, for example, classrooms are set up to teach children Lushootseed, one of Washington state's native languages. Approximately 80 percent of the students are of Native American decent, but nonnative children are just as interested in learning the new language. Incredibly, the article reports that by fourth grade, many of the children can speak in sentences, writing and following commands, all in Lushootseed. I had to learn English when my family immigrated from Poland and it's amazing how quickly I picked up the language as a seven year old child. It was easy and fun for me to learn a new language. Just as it is easy for the children attending Tulalip Elementary.  The article reports that  the students take to the language with ease and greatly enjoy the cultural experience of learning a new tongue, especially in the earliest grades.

According to the article, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, more than 300 languages were spoken in North America. Today an estimated 175 or so indigenous languages are spoken in the United States but about 90 percent are moribund, with very few children speaking them as their first language. Today, there are about 16 native languages still spoken in Washington. They are languages as musical as their names: Makah; Okanagan, Klallam, Quileute, Lushootseed.

It is incredibly inspiring to hear that not only have Tribal elders taken a proactive role in preserving Native American languages, but that the youth have embraced learning the language that will give them one of the most intimate connections to their cultural heritage possible -- and that is one of the greatest gifts of all.