The election of the first two Native American women to Congress, the appointment of Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) as secretary of the interior, and the proposals to direct billions of dollars to Indian Country are all positive signs of change in 2021.
In our advocacy of Native American issues, FCNL follows the priorities set by Native groups. As a result, one of our top priorities is legislation to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigneous Peoples (MMIP). The crisis originated during settler contact and continues to plague Indian Country. Awareness and outreach efforts by survivors, their families, advocates, and tribal communities have made a difference over the years.
In our advocacy of Native American issues, FCNL follows the priorities set by Native groups.
The National Crime Information Center recently reported that approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons have been added to its database. In addition, 2,700 cases of murder and nonnegligent homicide offenses have been reported to the government’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
Within the first 100 days of the Biden Administration, Secretary Haaland created a new Missing and Murdered Unit in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services. The unit provides guidance and coordination for cross-departmental and interagency work addressing MMIP cases.
This was followed by President Biden declaring May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. The president also committed to working with tribal nations in addressing the MMIP crisis, resolving cases, and confronting the underlying causes.
Legislation addressing the crisis—like Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act—were signed into law in October 2019 and are currently in varying stages of implementation. Even when fully implemented, key pieces of this legislation often need to be re-authorized every few years or may need additional bills to strengthen it.
This year, for example, President Biden signed the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021. This law adds revenue sources to the Crime Victims Fund, which goes directly to victims. Funds also go to states and tribes to support more than 1,500 victim services organizations.
More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women experience violence in their lifetime.
For several years, FCNL has been advocating for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The House passed its 2021 VAWA reauthorization bill in March, with strong tribal provisions, but the Senate has yet to introduce their bill.
Reauthorizing VAWA is urgent since more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women experience violence in their lifetime. Every reauthorization of VAWA has increased resources to address the safety of Indigenous women.
The 2013 Violence Against Women Act included a pilot program to restore tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives who commit certain crimes of domestic violence against tribal citizens on tribal lands. But the pilot program set strict limits on tribes that can participate in the pilot, and less than two dozen tribes have met the Department of Justice’s requirements to successfully implement this restored criminal jurisdiction.
FCNL is advocating for the expansion of this program in the new VAWA reauthorization, as well as expanding the list of crimes that can be prosecuted under the law.
Despite inaction by the Senate, FCNL’s advocacy for VAWA was strengthened by the Supreme Court’s decision in the case United States vs. Cooley. In June, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the inherent authority of tribal nations to detain non-Indians suspected of committing crimes on tribal lands.
Upholding elements of tribal jurisdiction over non-Natives is critical to the continuation and expansion of the tribal jurisdiction provisions in the Violence Against Women Act. Advocating for legislation that addresses the MMIP crisis keeps momentum going for VAWA reauthorization.
It also helps tribes to better address the crisis in their own communities, by supporting tribally run and culturally appropriate prevention and treatment efforts.
One such effort was through the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, which funds emergency shelters and supports related assistance for victims of domestic violence. It provides funding for an Alaska Native Tribal Resource Center on Domestic Violence and a Native Hawaiian Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
The reauthorization of this bill has bipartisan support and is headed to the House floor for a vote soon.
As a Quaker organization, FCNL affirms that opposing violence is not a partisan issue. Tribal nations and their citizens deserve stronger protections against non-Native perpetrators of violence on tribal lands.
Tell your member of Congress to support the Violence Against Women Act at www.fcnl.org/vawa.