NALU: November 2011: Native Women, Energy Development, Eagle Feathers, and more
Native American Legislative Update -- November 2011
In this update:
Strengthening the Violence Against Women Act for Native Women
Energy in Indian Country
Indian Child Welfare Act
Eagle Feathers and Ceremony
November Is National Native American Heritage Month
Third Tribal Summit
National Congress of American Indians
Indian Health Care
American Indian women, including Alaska Natives, experience extremely high rates of domestic and sexual violence: 34 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetime, and 39 percent will be subject to domestic violence. The Violence Against Women Act, first passed in 1994, provides funding to both governmental and non-governmental organizations that provide services to women that have experienced domestic violence. This law is due to be reauthorized in Congress. The Violence Against Women Act specifically authorizes funding to tribes and tribal organizations that work to end domestic and dating violence for Native American women. But despite this effort to support Native women, tribal police still do not have authority to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit such acts on Indian land. This gap in legal authority has led to continued domestic abuse and violence without the fear of punishment for non-Indian perpetrators of such crimes.
In order to strengthen tribal police officers’ authority in these cases, as well as to make a number of other changes which will benefit American Indian and Alaska Native women under the Act, Senator Daniel Akaka (HI) has proposed the Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women (SAVE Native Women) Act, S. 1763. Senator Akaka’s introductory statement, including the text of the legislation, is available here. Several of the provisions of the act are listed below.
- •It would clarify that tribal police can arrest and detain a non-Indian suspected of domestic abuse or violence and would recognize the authority of certain tribes to exercise concurrent criminal jurisdiction (along with state or federal jurisdiction, depending on the tribe) over domestic violence cases, regardless of whether the defendant is an Indian or non-Indian.
- •It would clarify the full civil jurisdiction of tribal courts to issue and enforce certain protection orders involving any person, Indian or non-Indian.
- •It would amend the federal assault statute to allow federal prosecutors to apply sentences similar to those that would be applied by state law for three types of assault frequently committed against Indian women: assaults by striking, beating or wounding, assaults resulting in substantial bodily harm, and assaults by strangling or suffocating. This change would create a greater sense of justice and fairness in sentencing for crimes committed against an Indian woman in Indian Country compared to similar crimes in the neighboring jurisdictions.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs met to review the legislation on November 10 and is expected to report out the bill soon. Meanwhile the Senate Judiciary Committee has prepared a draft of its overall reauthorization of VAWA and has included language similar to that of the Indian Affairs Committee’s bill.
Senator John Barrasso (WY), along with Senators Akaka, John McCain (AZ), and John Hoeven (ND), introduced the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2011 on October 12. The bill, S. 1684, would amend the Indian energy title of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to meet two goals:
- •to speed up the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ energy leasing process and
- •to streamline the process and conditions for approval of tribal energy resource agreements by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
In his introductory statement, Senator Barrasso said that the bill “will help break down barriers to energy development in Indian Country. It will spur economic development, provide Indian people with an opportunity to make a good living, and give the tribes greater control over the management and development of their own trust resources.” Progress on this legislation will enable Indian tribes to develop their energy resources more efficiently.
Emerging (or Re-emerging) Issues
In late October, National Public Radio ran a three-part series on Indian foster children who have been removed from their tribal homes by state agencies. This NPR series, focusing on South Dakota, raises questions about the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. In solidarity with Native Americans, FCNL has supported this act over the years.
Not all the action is in the Indian Affairs committee! On November 10, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Senator Tim Johnson (SD), held a hearing on “Opportunities and Challenges for Economic Development in Indian Country.” The Committee heard testimony from individuals representing a Native American business, a tribal financial institution and tribal bank, and a national tribal organization that seeks to link tribal entrepreneurs with financial entities. Among other issues, witnesses discussed the remoteness of many reservations and lack of banks and access to capital; the need for financial literacy among tribal citizens and ways they are addressing that; the value of stability in tribal government, including tribal courts, and uniform or consistent tribal laws and codes; and the unique status of tribal lands which are held in trust by the federal government. Several witnesses had specific recommendations for the Committee’s consideration to address these issues.
If your tribe’s tradition calls for eagle feathers for religious ceremonies or as part of traditional regalia, how do you obtain feathers from this protected species? The Department of Justice is trying to find a solution that will honor both religious practice and wildlife protection. The Department is seeking tribal comment on two directions:
- •a possible policy describing its current practices that would accommodate the use of eagle feathers by members of federally recognized tribes
- •a joint federal-tribal training program on enforcement of wildlife and other environmental laws.
President Obama issued a proclamation, and several federal agencies will hold events to celebrate.
President Obama recently announced that he, Cabinet officials and other federal agency representatives will hold this administration’s third summit with tribal leaders in Washington, DC, on December 2nd.
The NCAI held its 68th national annual conference in Portland, OR, in early November and re-elected Jefferson Keel as their president. Senator Daniel Akaka, chair of the Senate Indian Affairs committee, addressed the conference, highlighting the two themes that have been the focus of his committee’s work: identity and homelands. Senator Akaka reported on the committee’s oversight hearings and on legislation he has sponsored “to improve the ability of Native communities to be in control of their homelands and their children's education-the very future of a people's identity.”
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act allows tribal organizations and urban Indian health organizations to purchase Federal Employees Health Benefits and Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance coverage, rights and benefits for their employees. The Office of Personnel Management is now implementing that provision and has announced that these organizations may begin to arrange for their employees’ participation beginning May 1, 2012.
For a PDF printable version of the November 2011 NALU, click here!