President Obama signed into law in March the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, marking a huge step forward for domestic violence victims everywhere. This new legislation offers more than the earlier version, which was enacted in 1994, in that it creates and expands federal programs that assist victims of domestic violence. In addition to re-establishing provisions of the earlier version, it provides newly established legal protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence and Native American women.
The historic provisions made for Native American women in the new VAWA are of particular importance since Native American women suffer from domestic violence at rates much higher than the national average. And in terms of sexual violence, Native American women suffer at rates 2.5 times higher than the national average. Legal loopholes that existed just before the passage of the new VAWA regarding what was considered tribal and federal jurisdiction made it possible for many non-Native men to abuse Native American women with impunity.
The White Earth Reservation Tribal Down ON Violence Everyday Program (DOVE) provides services to victims of domestic violence. Established in 2003, it serves both Native and non-Native women, men and youth living on or near the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, which is home to the Native American White Earth Band of Ojibew. DOVE’s mission is to empower and support victims of domestic abuse in becoming survivors.
The following is an interview with Dr. Erma Vizenor, Chairwoman of the White Earth Nation, on her views on the new version of VAWA and the work of the White Earth DOVE Program.
In your opinion, what does the recent passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) signify for the women's rights movement?
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is another important step for the rights of women. I am proud of the women’s rights movement and the courageous women who fought for our rights. The 19th Amendment to the United State Constitution gave women the right to vote; the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ensured equal rights for women in the work place; and now we have 76 women in the U.S. House of Representatives and 17 women in the U.S. Senate!
Do you believe the new version of VAWA goes far enough to protect women against domestic violence?
I am pleased the new version of VAWA expands protections to individuals who historically have been underrepresented and discriminated against, such as Native American women, immigrants, and members of the LGBT community. The sequestration will be a funding problem affecting VAWA implementation. On the White Earth Indian Reservation, our Down On Violence Everyday (DOVE) program will experience budget cuts as a result of the sequestration.
The new version of VAWA includes historic provisions for Native American Women and members of the LGBT community. Do you think the law as passed represents a step in the right direction for American Indian women and LGBT people in the United States?
Yes, the historic provisions for Native American women and the LGBT community are steps in the right direction. American Indian/Native American women experience the highest rate of violence of any group in United States. The provision for tribal jurisdiction (tribal courts) in prosecuting perpetrators is a huge step in Indian Country, certainly our Native women will be served with their long overdue justice.
What has the White Earth DOVE program been able to achieve in terms of advancing the cause of domestic violence victims?
The White Earth DOVE program has been active in promoting awareness. White Earth now has a women’s shelter where women and children have a safe place that provides services, including legal services. White Earth also has a Women’s Wellbriety Center that focuses on substance abuse problems in Native families. Women and children can stay at the Wellbriety Center for services. Substance abuse is one of the related factors in violence against Native women.
As a society, do you believe we have come a long way since the initial passage of VAWA in 1994?
Definitely we have come a long way since the passage of VAWA of 1994, especially with the establishment of the Office on Violence Against Women within the United States Department of Justice. Although it is VAWA, there are protections for male victims as well.
Interviewed with Dr. Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Nation, White Earth, Minnesota