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Moving Forward to Protect Native American Women: Justice Department Announces VAWA 2013 Pilot Project for Tribes

Summary: 
In 2013, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), recognizing a tribe’s inherent right to protect women previously left vulnerable by gaps in the law. Three American Indian tribes will participate in the Department of Justice’s Pilot Project to implement the new law.

Today, we are excited to announce a key step that will help protect Native American women from domestic violence. Last year, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) recognizing a tribe’s inherent right to protect women previously left vulnerable by gaps in the law.  Today, the Attorney General announced that three American Indian tribes – the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation of Oregon, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington –will participate in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Pilot Project to implement the new law. Crimes of domestic violence committed on the reservations of these tribes will be subject to tribal criminal prosecution, regardless of the defendant’s status as an Indian or non-Indian.  The Pilot Projects are vital to delivering justice for Native American women who are victims of domestic violence and to providing a safer and more secure Indian Country.

Improving the safety of our tribal communities is a priority of President Obama and his Administration, including recognizing and strengthening tribal sovereignty. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 46% of Native American women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett highlighted the issue of domestic violence in Indian Country when she traveled to the Tulalip Tribes of Washington last year and spent time with tribal criminal justice leaders engaged in ending violence against Native women.  Along with the Pilot Projects, the 2013 reauthorization of VAWA also clarifies that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to provide Native American women the safety and security of protection orders. And the new law gives additional tools to federal prosecutors to combat severe cases of domestic violence. These important provisions remind us all that a victim is a victim, and that everyone is entitled to protection against any perpetrator.

VAWA builds upon the foundation of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which recently marked its third anniversary and continues to strengthen tribal sovereignty through more effective tribal justice systems. Today, the participating tribes in the Pilot Project can ensure that justice is served on their own lands, stop the cycle of violence against women, and help fulfill President Obama’s larger agenda to make Indian Country a safer, more prosperous place for Native Americans.  Tribal participation in these Pilot Projects is crucial in building a better criminal justice system, bolstering tribal control and authority, and ultimately saving the lives of Native American women.

More information about today’s announcement can be found on the Department of Justice’s Tribal Justice and Safety Web site, available at: www.justice.gov/tribal. 

Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women; Jodi Gillette is the Senior Advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council; and Raina Thiele is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.