Leave Before He Kills You: In Native Populations’ Struggle to Overcome Domestic Violence, Survivors Play a Pivotal Role
As of press time, Congress was still deliberating on whether to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 law that authorizes funding for prosecuting and preventing violent crimes against women. VAWA has been mired in a political battle since April over jurisdictional issues and protections for immigrants and same-sex couples. Most notably for Native communities, a provision in the new VAWA gives tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Natives who commit crimes on tribal lands.
Nationally, Native American women marry non-Native men around half the time, and the numbers vary on what percentage of abuse is perpetrated by non-Natives (estimates range from 25 to 60 percent). If and when a non-Native is apprehended in a domestic violence case, the case must be referred to federal court, which can sometimes take years to prosecute.
To Geoffrey Tager, Ohkay Owingeh’s chief judge, the current system makes no sense.
“It’s possible for a tribal court civilly to conduct a marriage of a non-Indian, and it’s possible to do a parenting plan and a dissolution of a marriage for a Native and non-Native and order child support—but in actually committing a crime, the same [tribal] jurisdiction is powerless to act,” he says. “It is incredibly unfortunate and one of the bigger issues we are dealing with.”