Reauthorization of VAWA House Bill 1585 introduced

In Press Releases by support

March 8, 2019

Press Contact:  Candy Keown
Tel. (907) 378‑3339

The House Introduces the Reauthorization of Violence Against Women, House Bill 1585

The Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC

Today, the House introduced HR 1585 to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA).  The VAWA, originally enacted in 1994, was reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and most recently 2013.   The introduction of this bill includes two important provisions specific to Alaska Native women that we hope will remain as the bill passes through the house. Section 901 recognizes the findings of the 2013 Law and Order Commission that in states with restrictive land settlement acts such as Alaska, “Indian country” is limited, resources for local tribal responses either nonexistent or insufficient to meet the needs, jurisdiction unnecessarily complicated and increases the already high levels of victimization of American Indian and Alaska Native women. The VAWA bill also provides for a pilot project in section 903 for five Alaska Tribes to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction, described below, with an expanded “Indian country” definition in Alaska to do this.

VAWA 2013, as originally enacted, included an improvement to the law called special domestic violence court jurisdiction (SDVCJ), which is the recognition of a tribe’s inherent authority to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators that have both ties to a native community and who commit domestic dating violence against an Indian/Alaska Native woman in Indian country.  Alaska tribes were exempted by section §910 as originally enacted, but this section was repealed December 2013. However, the provisions reference exercising this jurisdiction in “Indian country” which has been found to not really exist in Alaska due to the Supreme Court case of Venetie v. Alaska, with the exception of the Metlakatla Indian Reservation.

To address the jurisdictional challenges in Alaska, this bill includes provisions for a pilot project for up to 5 Alaska Native communities to exercise special domestic violence court jurisdiction, which will provide tribes, within certain parameters, to prosecute non-Indian domestic violence perpetrators who commit domestic violence, dating violence and violation of protection order crimes within “Indian Country”.  The term “Indian Country” will be expanded in this limited circumstance to include an expansive view as the Tribal Law and Order Commission recommended.

Including specific provisions to Alaska demonstrates that our voices are being heard.” said Tami Truett Jerue, Executive Director, AKNWRC. “The Indian Law and Order Commission report sent to Congress November 2013 stated that Alaska Native women are over-represented in the domestic violence victim population by 250%, and while Alaska Natives represented 19% of the state population, they are 47% of reported rape victims.  This finding is included within the introduced bill.”

Shirley Moses, AKNWRC Board Co-Chair and Executive Director, Healing Native Hearts Coalition states that “each reauthorization to the law has identified measures needed to improve protections and services for American Indian and Alaska Native women, and began to address the issues in the majority of Indian country.  Because of the jurisdictional challenges in Alaska, we have been left out of many of the improvements. By including specific findings about the situation in Alaska, our voices and circumstances are finally being heard and hopefully we will continue to make headway educating about the need to get the resources for our communities to protect our women from violence and abuse.”

The Pilot Project for  Alaska Native tribes is huge!  We need to be able to prosecute domestic violence defendants, whether they are Alaska Native or not.  The pilot project will provide us an opportunity to demonstrate how important it is to provide resources and clarifying jurisdictional gaps in our communities.” said Joann Horn, AKNWRC Board Co-Chair and Executive Director, Emmonak Women’s Shelter.

VAWA 2013 did expire, but the effect has been minimal as the funding has been extended through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019.   Federal discretionary funding goes through two processes: authorization and appropriation. VAWA has been unauthorized previously–between 2010 and 2013–and was still funded. The net effect is that only grant programs need to be authorized; the rest of VAWA never “expires.”

About the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center
Organized in 2015, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center is a tribal nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against women with Alaska’s 229 tribes and allied organizations. AKNWRC board members are Alaska Native women raised in Alaska Native Villages and have 141 years of combined experience in tribal governments, nonprofit management, domestic violence, and sexual assault advocacy (both individual crisis and systems and grassroots social change advocacy at the local, statewide, regional, national and international levels), and other social service experience. AKNWRC’s philosophy is that violence against women is rooted in the colonization of indigenous nations.