Statement from Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC) on the passage of HR 1620

In News by Candy Keown

VAWA Reauthorization is one step closer to being enacted.

On March 17, 2021, the House of Representatives approved passage of H.R. 1620, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2021. This landmark act aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, was originally enacted in 1994 and has gone through several expansions and struggles in the last 27 years.

The current H.R. 1620 has several improvements, which the Senate will begin its deliberations on this week. The most important provision is the continued recognition of Tribal nations inherent sovereignty and right to hold persons accountable who perpetrate violence on Tribal citizens and their families and communities. This is vital for our Alaska Native communities, where State or Federal law enforcement is not present or unresponsive when violent domestic offenses occur.

VAWA 2013, the last time VAWA went through significant improvements, included a new provision called special domestic violence court jurisdiction (SDVCJ). This allows Tribes to exercise their 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, including Alaska tribes. The creation of Pilot projects in Alaska to develop these SDVCJ Tribal Courts is a huge victory that AKNWRC is very excited about.

As this important bill moves over to the Senate, we urge people to educate themselves on the improvements to VAWA that will help make it safer for our families.