Indigenous Women-Led Discussion on Violence Against Rural Indigenous Women

By Jana L. Walker, Cherokee, Delaware, and Loyal Shawnee, and Christopher Foley, Cherokee, Senior Attorneys, Indian Law Resource Center

67th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women 


Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, 2016. Photo courtesy of ILRC.
Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, 2016. Photo courtesy of ILRC. 


On March 8, the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) cosponsored a virtual parallel event with seven other Indigenous organizations, Violence Against Rural Indigenous Women: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, the United States, as part of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women’s 67th (NGO-CSW67). Jana Walker, ILRC senior attorney, explained, “This event provided space for Indigenous women to address the UN and the public on how violations of Indigenous peoples’ land rights and rights of self-government expose Indigenous women to gender-based violence and other severe human rights violations, and how living in rural communities intensifies these problems, “ said Jana Walker, ILRC senior attorney. 

Judite Guajajara (Guajajara Indigenous people) is a Legal Advisor for the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), Brazil’s largest regional Indigenous organization. She discussed how COIAB defends Indigenous peoples’ rights, noting specifically their work to break the silence on topics like gender-based violence. She explained that a principal cause of violence against Brazilian Indigenous women is illegal extraction, including mining, causing a humanitarian crisis in the Yanomami territory and other Indigenous lands. 

Maria Caal Pop, an Ancestral Maya Q’eqchi’ leader, has served seven years as Second Vice President of the Women’s Committee in the Chapín Abajo community in Guatemala. Maria described recent violent attacks by the military and police to evict her community from their ancestral lands. Today, these lands that are today claimed by a palm oil corporation. Maria called on the international community to investigate these crimes. he concluded by exhorting the audience to join her struggle for Indigenous rights by saying, “To those who are always in resistance, I ask you not to give up.” 

Juanita Cabrera Lopez (Maya Mam) is the Executive Director of the International Mayan League, which works to promote, preserve and transmit the culture, history, and contributions of the Maya in defense of Mother Earth and to address root causes contributing to discrimination, inequality, and oppression of the Maya. She described how transnational corporations and extractive industries are leading the 4th wave of dispossession that Mayan communities have endured since contact, and she called for the respect of Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and their lands and territories. 

Teresita Antazú López (Yanesha Indigenous People) spoke on behalf of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP), the leading Indigenous organization for peoples of the Peruvian Amazon. AIDESEP defends and advances Indigenous peoples’ collective rights by strengthening their self-government and reclaiming the territorial integrity of Indigenous lands. Teresita spoke about how AIDESEP preserves and advances the traditional cosmovision of the Indigenous peoples it represents. It also makes space for Indigenous women to assume new leadership roles in their communities and within the broader Indigenous rights movement. 

Paula Julian (Filipina), Senior Policy Specialist with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC), noted that the disproportionately high rates of violence Native women face in the U.S. are due to the taking and exploitation of Indigenous homelands and resources by non-Indigenous governments, industries, and people. She also described how these human rights violations are linked to the failure of the U.S. to meet its legal and moral obligations. 

Tami Truett Jerue (Anvik Tribe), executive director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, discussed how enormous, rural spaces of Alaska combined with the state and federal governments’ systematic underinvestment in justice services, leaves Alaska Native women largely unprotected. Much of the violence they face is rooted in resource extraction and land theft—a theme that recurred in several other presentations. Tami called on the U.S. to meet its federal and international law obligations to provide resources to Tribal governments so Indigenous peoples can govern themselves. 

Sadie Young Bird (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation), executive director of the MHA Nation Tribal Victim Service Program, also sits on the board for the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, Reclaiming Our Sacredness, a coalition of domestic violence and sexual assault programs. She described how rural Native women must travel long distances to access sexual assault exams and medical care and how jurisdictional questions about the land where a crime is committed and whether the perpetrator and/or victim are Indian impedes justice for survivors. Sadie also discussed how the oil boom on Indian reservations had driven major increases in trafficking and sex crimes against Native women. 

Dr. Dayna Schultz, (Kanaka ʻŌiwi), executive director, and Dolly M.I. Tatofi, (Kanaka ʻŌiwi), board member vice president, spoke for the Pouhana O Nā Wāhine “Pillars of Women” (PONW). The PONW seeks to reduce disparities faced by Native Hawaiians and to preserve Hawaiian culture to help families and communities heal from violence and colonization. They spoke about the impact of colonization, including the ongoing trauma arising from the loss of their traditional monarchy and the resulting forced assimilation and the need to reclaim traditional family relationships and rebuild Hawaiian language and naming practices to restore cultural protections. 

Christopher T. Foley, ILRC senior attorney, closed the event by emphasizing common themes, particularly how work to secure Indigenous land rights and rights of self-government is essential to end violence against Indigenous women. He also presented joint recommendations to the CSW from the co-sponsors, urging the CSW first to hold a formal discussion about “implementing Indigenous women’s individual and collective rights to lives free of violence and discrimination” and second to call on national governments to protect the collective rights of Indigenous women, including rights to land and self-government. 

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