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Restoration Magazine

Editor’s Note (06/2019)

What about the women? Have you seen my daughter? Sister? Mother?

In 2008, Restoration covered the murder of Victoria Eagleman, from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, located in SD. Terri Henry and I joined Tillie Black Bear, Roxanne Sazue, Karen Artichoker, Brenda Hill, Carmen O’Leary, and so many others on a walk for justice for Vicky. It was a life-changing reality check. As a movement, we had just won the passage of the Safety for Indian Women Act in VAWA 2005, and it seemed change was coming. Yet sitting and listening to June, Vicky’s mother, talk about the days following her disappearance—all of the changes we won clearly fell short of what was needed. June previously worked at White Buffalo Calf Women’s Shelter, one of the first Native women’s shelters in the country. June knew what to do. June did everything possible. She did what I would have done if it were my daughter. June said, “Vicky was just going to get milk for the kids for dinner.” Driving back to Rosebud was hard. It was a sinking feeling that it would take decades, lifetimes, generations to overhaul this system that has never protected Native women, and that many more lives would be taken.

In 2013, Malinda Limberhand on the Northern Cheyenne reservation also tried to report her daughter Hanna Harris as missing. The similarities in the response of the system between Vicky and Hanna are so close that it is a gut punch. Malinda was told, “Hanna is just too scared to come home.” Like June, Malinda was told she could search for Hanna herself. And, like in Vicky’s case, Malinda and the community did find Hanna, but it was too late. Hanna’s murder was also close to the movement in that Lame Deer is the home office of NIWRC. Malinda and Hanna are our community members.

In 2008, Restoration covered Vicky’s murder through her mother’s words.1 And, since 2008, it has covered the crisis of MMIW consistently over the years. The outrage of the families, the tribes, and so many others across the United States and the world has finally elevated the issue from a local level to a national level. From a family responsibility to a Congressional responsibility and United Nations responsibility.

Now that the injustices are in the public’s eye, has the response of the system changed? The answer is a resounding no, it has not changed. Kimberly Loring Heavy Runner’s recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on MMIW described the same failures in her sister’s disappearance and murder.2 Ashley Loring Heavy Runner went missing June 12, 2017, on the Blackfeet Reservation. The family received the same response Malinda and June received. They were not taken seriously and told: “Ashley is of age and can leave whenever she wants to.”

From Vicky’s disappearance on July 28, 2006, to Hanna’s disappearance on July 4, 2013, to Ashley’s on June 12, 2017, little has changed, the system’s failed response remains the same. During this period of more than a decade, hundreds of Native women and girls have gone missing and have been murdered.

Over the last two years, much attention has centered on law enforcement failure to issue a police report and track cases of MMIW. Both issues are deserving of Congressional and public scrutiny. What is not receiving the same attention is the reality that the entire system fails Native women. Not issuing a missing person’s report, conducting a search, and immediately responding after a disappearance is the end result of a system that has failed to provide a society that is safe for Native women in their homes and in public. And one that is safe on and off tribal lands.

The system does not respond to cases of violence against Native women because it is not designed to respond to all of the injustices leading up to the abductions and homicides of Indian women. The ill-conceived policies, violence, maltreatment, and neglect that have led to centuries of injustice are acknowledged in two apologies—the 1998 Apology to Native Hawaiians and the 2009 Apology to Native Peoples. Sadly, the injustices continue to this day, as cases are still not taken seriously as reflected in all of the disparities Indian women and girls experience in this country prior to and after a disappearance.

Congressional champions for Native women in both the House and Senate are now demanding accountability, have proposed changes, and amendments to federal law. We hope that Savanna’s Act, the Not Invisible Act, and the Studying the Missing Indian Act are just the beginning of the reforms to come. These congressional champions understand the dangers and pitfalls of the current criminal justice response to MMIW. As a national movement, it is crucial to express that reforms must address the entire spectrum of violence Native women experience—birth to death. Indian tribes have a unique legal relationship to the United States as stated by Congress in the findings of the VAWA 2005, Safety for Indian Women Title—the unique legal relationship of the United States to Indian tribes creates a federal trust responsibility to assist tribal governments in safeguarding the lives of Indian women.3 Beyond criminal justice reform, Congress must recognize and honor their trust responsibilities such as providing adequate healthcare, educational and economic development resources, and safe housing to properly address the multifaceted and complex issue of MMIW.

A deeper and broader response to the crisis of MMIW is needed. While increasing the response to MMIW cases is important, prioritizing attention to providing advocacy and support to women and girls to prevent abductions and murders is critical. Support is needed at the frontline where women and girls are being killed. There are currently less than 50 Native Women’s shelters across the country and no tribal rape crisis centers. Victims urgently need this advocacy and support. Support from the federal government for these much needed services in addition to criminal justice reform will help save Native Women’s lives.

In the reauthorization of every VAWA, Congress has provided amendments to restore the authority of Indian tribes while also providing increased resources to assist Indian tribes toward this goal. Yet it has not been enough. The 2019 VAWA Reauthorization Act, H.R. 1585 passed in the House on April 4, 2019, recognizes the concerns and includes the recommendations of Indian tribes to enhance the tribal response to the spectrum of violence against Native women and hopefully, the beginnings of a preventive response to this crisis of MMIW. Now is the time for the Senate to do the right thing and pass a Senate version of a bill identical to H.R. 1585.

“When I reported my daughter missing, the chief of police told me, ‘She’s probably drinking and too scared to come home. I was told I could search for Hanna myself. We did the search and found Hanna, but it was too late. Having a dedicated resource in the Department of Justice and a requirement that law enforcement takes a missing person report could have helped my daughter.”—Malinda Limberhand, 2019

Printed on the pages of Restoration are eleven years of reporting on the crisis of MMIW. We cannot shed enough tears for the sacred women and girls lost to violence and hatred. We send our prayers to the families of those lost. We honor our sisters as have their relatives, Indian tribes, and communities across the country by the vigils, walks, marches, and so many other social justice actions. And together, we are organizing to stand against the violence and create the changes needed. We pray these changes come this year through the reauthorizations of VAWA, and FVPSA, the tribal amendments to VOCA, and other lifesaving bills now before Congress.

“We are a movement of resistance.”—Tillie Black Bear

1. Restoration, Vol. VII, March 2008, p 8-9.
3. VAWA 2005, Safety for Indian Women Title, §901. Finding 6.

Jacqueline Agtuca

Pouhana O Na Wahine Update

Pouhana O Na Wahine is a grassroots organization advocating for Native Hawaiian families who face challenges related to domestic violence and sexual assault, by exercising our inherent sovereign rights as indigenous people of Hawaii. The Board and its members come from the different islands in the Hawaiian chain.

Pouhana O Na Wahine’s Board and members met on the island of Oahu at the Life Source Center in the ahupua’a (land division) of Manoa, on Saturday, February 23, 2019, to continue organizing efforts for the safety of Native Hawaiian’s experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.

NIWRC has a meeting scheduled with the Pouhana’s Board on August 31 – September 1, 2019 on Oahu, including discussions on national strategies for increasing the safety of Native women, priority areas addressing domestic and gender-based violence against Native Hawaiian women, and exchange opportunities with Indian tribes, tribal coalitions and domestic violence and sexual assault organizations.

Paula Julian

Weaving a Braid of Support: Connecting Native Victims of Abuse with Tribal-Based Support Services

Calls to the StrongHearts Native Helpline confirm what Native advocates have known all along – Native victims of domestic violence prefer culturally-appropriate resources from their community

With more than 3,200 calls now reported, the StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-7NATIVE), an anonymous and confidential domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, is fulfilling its purpose serving as the first culturally-appropriate, national helpline for Indian country.

Based on recent information gathered from randomly selected caller stories, at least 80 percent of Native American callers facing intimate partner violence (IPV) preferred to be connected with a Tribal-based and/or culturally-appropriate direct service provider rather than with their non-Native counterparts.

Since the launch of services in March 2017, the StrongHearts Native Helpline has offered callers peer advocacy, emotional support, crisis intervention, and connection to community-based resources based on location and services needed. Referrals for callers include Tribal shelters, Native legal services, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE), and domestic violence advocates and programs connected to Tribal communities, among many other critical services.

“One of the first questions that many of our callers ask is whether our advocates are Native, and when they hear that the answer is yes, it opens the floodgates,” said Lori Jump (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa), Assistant Director of the StrongHearts Native Helpline. “We hear how thankful they are not to have to explain who they are and how being Native impacts their victimization and survivorship.”

With a strong understanding of the importance of Tribal cultures, family, and traditions, StrongHearts advocates offer callers culturally-appropriate support, crisis intervention, assistance with safety planning and a connection to Tribal resources as they navigate the difficult barriers to justice and safety. StrongHearts advocates are available daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST. Callers reaching out after hours can access the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) by selecting option 1.

In March 2019, StrongHearts increased its available hours to better serve victim-survivors of IPV, concerned family members and friends, ‘helper’ programs seeking assistance for clients or patients, as well as people questioning their own abusive behavior. Advocates assist anyone who calls the helpline, which is available free of charge.

Moving the Needle

Since October 1, 2018, StrongHearts call volume increased by 414% compared to the same time in the previous year. This increase is demonstrative of an unmet need for culturally-responsive services for Native victims and survivors of abuse.

“In our outreach to Tribal communities and at national events and trainings, we heard loud and clear from so many of our relatives how desperately their communities need a shelter or domestic violence program,” said Mallory Black (Diné), StrongHearts Communications Manager. “Many people tell us how they wish StrongHearts was around when they needed it and how grateful they are that a helpline now exists to provide a safe, supportive space for our Native people.”

In March 2019, the StrongHearts Native Helpline held an open house in collaboration with the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) in Eagan, Minnesota, to mark the helpline’s second anniversary and new office headquarters. Pictures left to right: Tara Azure, NIWRC Training and Resource Specialist; Katie Ray-Jones, Chief Executive Office of the Hotline; Lori Jump, StrongHearts Assistant Director; Lucy Simpson, NIWRC Executive Director; Shawndell Dawson, Director of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, ACF/HHS; and Gwendolyn Packard, NIWRC Training & Technical Assistance Specialist.

The StrongHearts team continues to forge partnerships with Tribal coalitions and Native organizations, such as the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. During October which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, IHS and StrongHearts collaborated to provide a webinar about StrongHearts services to the IHS Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative (DVPI) grantees. DVPI is a congressionally mandated, nationally coordinated grant and federal award program for Tribes, tribal organizations, Urban Indian organizations, and federal facilities providing violence prevention and treatment services. IHS also published a blog post on its website sharing StrongHearts as a resource and provided a link to the helpline’s website and phone number.

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, StrongHearts partnered with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) in April 2019 to facilitate a webinar on what domestic violence looks like, the signs of relationship abuse, and an overview of services available as a resource for service providers and community members. In June 2019, StrongHearts will continue to work with NPAIHB to help facilitate a domestic violence training for Tribal service providers and a youth-specific dating violence workshop for Tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest region.

This year, StrongHearts is also collaborating on the Tribal Resource Tool (TRT) to provide expertise in populating its directory of services for victims of crime. The Office for Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice funded the National Center for Victims of Crime to create the TRT, a web-based resource mapping tool that provides a listing of all services available for Native survivors of crime and abuse and identifies resource gaps. The StrongHearts-TRT collaboration provides an administrative assistant position that will simultaneously provide support to both the TRT directory and the StrongHearts referral database. StrongHearts advocates utilize the helpline’s referral database to connect callers with Tribally-run resources that can serve their needs in a culturally rooted way.

The Steps Ahead

Data gathered from IPV victim-survivors reaching out to the helpline over the past two years has helped illustrate the great need for culturally-relevant advocacy, education and support services. According to StrongHearts’ data from its first 25 months* of operations, the severity of those 547 callers’ experiences is telling:

  • At least three out of four (77 percent) IPV victim-survivor callers who identified as Native American or Alaska Native reported being enrolled members of a federally-recognized or state-recognized tribe;
  • More than four out of five (85 percent) reported emotional abuse; and
  • About one-third (33 percent) had experienced financial abuse.
  • Based on 17 random excerpts of caller experiences in April 2019, at least four out of five Native victim survivors (80 percent) had left or were in the process of leaving their abuser and needed additional support.

Funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau, which administers the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, StrongHearts works to support the safety and healing of Native people by upholding the sovereignty of Native nations in protecting their people. Whenever possible, helpline advocates refer callers to resources connected with their Tribal communities and culture.

FVPSA is the primary federal funding stream dedicated to supporting lifesaving services and related programs for victims of domestic violence and their children. While FVPSA legislation is currently up for reauthorization, policymakers could enact legislation that includes an amendment for the permanent inclusion of the StrongHearts Native Helpline this fall.

Native advocates, including organizational efforts by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, have made significant steps forward to provide Tribes with the recognition, jurisdiction and resources to protect their communities under FVPSA with each reauthorization. These advances help to support Native victim-survivors of violence in Tribal communities by breaking down barriers to justice and safety.

“Our work at StrongHearts has revealed what we have always known but struggled to prove – there is a serious resource disparity in Indian country,” Jump said. “There are huge swaths of land where no resources exist for our people. In many cases, our advocates are left to refer our callers to non-Native programs, and while we are thankful for those programs, they do not always understand the specific barriers our people face. StrongHearts is a critical link supporting the safety and healing of our people and sovereignty of our communities.”

*Based on data gathered from calls to the StrongHearts Native Helpline reported March 6, 2017 through April 30, 2019, unless otherwise specified.

Mallory Adamski

2019 Annual Consultation on Violence Against Native Women – August 21-22, 2019, New Buffalo, Michigan

This August 2019 consultation marks 14 years of government-to-government consultations between Indian tribes and federal departments on violence against Native women. Clearly, these annual consultations drive the federal legislative and policy reform efforts to increase safety for Native women forward. For more than a decade this nation-to-nation engagement as governments has provided an avenue for Indian tribes and the United States to discuss foundational issues preventing Indian tribes as governments from ensuring safety for women from abusers and predators.

At the 2018 consultation in Sioux Falls, SD, Indian tribes presented the legal, policy, and administrative issues preventing their governments from safeguarding the lives of Indian women. Many of the barriers identified by tribal leaders were legal ones—existing laws passed by Congress, U.S. Supreme Court rulings from decades ago, or administrative policies of federal departments. Tribal leaders highlighted priority concerns and recommendations, including the following:

  • amendments to 25 USC 1304 to remove remaining jurisdictional loopholes to further the protections needed by Native women, children, and tribal personnel;
  • the creation of a permanent authorization for DOJ’s Tribal Access to National Crime Information Program and opening the program to be inclusive of all Indian tribes;
  • amendments to increase protections of Native women to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native women in tribal communities;
  • legal barriers, in conflict with the purposes of the VAWA, preventing certain Indian tribes from protecting Native women, such as in the states of Maine and Alaska, and
  • addressing disparities and inadequate funding of tribes under the Crime Victim Fund and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.

This year’s consultation occurs at a time when both the VAWA and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act have expired and must be reauthorized in 2019. It is also during a time when other significant legislation to address the safety of Native women is pending such as the amendment to the Crime Victim Fund to create a “permanent” dedicated funding stream for Indian tribes in the SURVIVE Act introduced in both the Senate and House.

“Under the consultation mandate, the federal departments—Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Interior—must each consult annually with Indian nations on issues concerning the safety of Indian women. The annual consultation is to provide the vehicle and central point for the exchange between Indian tribes and these three federal departments.” —Juana Majel, Co-Chair, NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women.

“While federal departments and agencies can also consult on their particular issues, these three departments are mandated by Congress to consult. The statute is clear. It states that during the annual consultation, “the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General shall solicit recommendations from Indian tribes.” In 2013 the Secretary of the Interior was added as a mandated participating federal agency. While these federal departments also consult on their particular issues, these departments are mandated to consult specifically on issues listed under the VAWA statute. This is essential because perpetrators understand the loopholes in state and federal laws and evade accountability. Creating some of the deadliest situations in the United States. It is essential that all three of the central agencies be at the consultation table. Why? Because addressing this crisis is not piecemeal. The silos federal departments create to run their departments do not benefit the tribal communities these programs were designed to serve. It will take extensive coordination to remove the legal and policy barriers and implement the lifesaving reforms of VAWA.”—Michelle Demmert, Co-Chair, NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women.

To continue to increase protections for Native women, Indian nations need to continuously identify the roadblocks and solutions that will allow tribal nations as governments to protect women. This section of Restoration is offered to assist tribal leaders and the movement in preparing for the 2019 consultation.

Progress Made Based on the VAWA Annual Consultation Process

The 2019 VAWA consultation marks 14 years of annual consultations between Indian tribes and federal departments on issues concerning violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. This consistent dialogue between tribal governments and the federal departments on the highest priorities to be addressed has created a steady process of change addressing foundational issues and also changes to increase safety in the day-to-day lives of Indian women.

“Reforms under VAWA are a process, and each amendment is a stepping stone toward our goal of strengthening Indian tribal authority to protect their women citizens. With each amendment, we see movement toward providing more resources for Indian tribes as governments to address violence against women. The speed in reforming the antiquated system under which we live must increase so that Native women can live free from violence.”—Lucy Simpson, Executive Director, NIWRC

Consultation 2006-2018

Since 2006, tribal leaders have raised at the annual consultation the most severe roadblocks impacting the ability of Indian tribes to protect women. The barriers identified are often legal ones—existing laws passed by Congress, U.S. Supreme Court rulings from decades ago, or administrative policies of federal departments. Removing these barriers identified by tribal leaders has required ongoing discussions and national advocacy over many years.

Changes to federal law and policies are complicated due to the layers of federal Indian law. Addressing many of these barriers requires Congressional action that can occur through changes to federal law and at times budget appropriations. And some obstacles do not require Congressional action and can be made by administrative action of a federal department through changes to policies.

The amendment under VAWA 2000 increasing the amount of the dedicated tribal fund to 10% required amending the original amount of 4% under VAWA of 1995. The creation of a separate tribal title under VAWA in 2005 required amending VAWA 2000. The return of criminal jurisdiction to Indian tribes in cases of domestic violence made by Congress under VAWA 2013 required amending the Indian Civil Rights Act and other federal laws. And the inclusion of a dedicated tribal funding stream under the 2018 Congressional Budget Appropriations Act temporarily allows Indian tribes access to the Crime Victim Fund.

Understanding the relationship of this consultation process to the major victories of more than a decade is important in preparation for the 2019 annual consultation. Consultation provides a vehicle for tribal governments to state their concerns, recommendations, and support or opposition to reforms under consideration. The reports from the annual consultation give a detailed record from Indian tribes on Congressional actions needed to increase the response of tribal governments to violence against Indian women. The annual government-to-government consultation provides a process for the progress to continue until safety and justice for Native women are achieved.

Victories from Recommendations Raised by Indian Tribes During Consultation

Issues raised by tribal leaders during annual VAWA mandated consultation have resulted in steps forward to increase the safety of Native women. These gains were won based on the hard work of the national movement over many decades. The increased resources have provided the support needed to implement the necessary changes, and other changes recognize the cultural difference between tribal and non-tribal services. Listed below are examples of key changes since the annual consultation was mandated by VAWA in 2005. The challenge to our movement, tribal leaders and federal departments is to continue the forward direction of prior consultations and uphold the government-to-government consultation mandate.

2007 OVW Policy Change—Allowing children to be present at OVW-funded events.
2010 Congressional Act—Increase in sentencing limitation on tribal courts from a maximum of 1-year incarceration per offense to up to 3 years for a single conviction under the Tribal Law and Order Act amending the Indian Civil Rights Act.
2011 DOJ Policy Change—28 Indian tribes allowed direct access to National Crime Information Center through the USDOJ.
2013 Congressional Act—Return of jurisdiction over specific non-Indian domestic violence abusers and increase in funding for the tribal coalition grant program.
2015 State of Alaska Policy Change—The Alaska Attorney General published a formal opinion concluding that federal law preempts the Alaska state order of protection registration law and that local and state law enforcement must enforce tribal orders of protection as a result of DOJ action.
2015 DOJ Policy Change—Launch of the Tribal Access Program (TAP) providing Indian tribes access to submit and obtain criminal and civil information into the National Crime Information Center databases.
2016 OVW Administrative Response—OVW coordinated listening session with Alaska Native villages attended by DOJ, HHS, and DOI held in Fairbanks, Alaska.
2018 Congressional Budget Appropriations—Funding appropriated for a dedicated tribal victims of crime program including services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

Preparation for Consultation at the Tribal, Regional and National LevelsThe NCAI Task Force since the first consultation in 2006, has assisted Indian tribes in preparing for the consultation. The Task Force organizes a national webinar to summarize key national concerns and emerging issues for tribal leaders to consider in their preparation. It also coordinates a preparatory caucus for tribal leaders and representatives during which tribal leaders receive a briefing of priority issues and time to discuss their specific concerns and recommendations for the consultation the following day. This year the tribal leaders briefing and caucus will be held Tuesday, August 20, 6:30-8 PM, at the Silver Creek Room at the Four Winds Resort, in New Buffalo, Michigan. Following each year’s caucus, a list of the concerns and recommendations summarizing the priority issues is developed and provided to OVW as NCAI’s formal written statement.

As in past years, this Restoration provides a review of previous concerns and recommendations made by tribal leaders addressing the three broad statutory areas identified for consultation, and any pending legislation addressing the concerns. This section also references where relevant the tribal provisions contained in the Tribal Title and other federal statutes.

The Federal Response to the Mandate of VAWA 2005 for Annual Consultation

Since the first consultation in 2006 the VAWA mandated consultation process organized by OVW has improved. Many of these improvements were mandated by the VAWA of 2005 and the additional amendments under VAWA 2013. In general, the tribal concerns focus on maintaining the government-to-government relationship of the annual consultation.

Tribal leaders, during consultations, have raised specific concerns and recommendations to maintain the government-to-government context of the consultation. Tribal leaders have raised consistently that the consultation is a government-to-government process and a time for tribal leaders to present the concerns and recommendations of their respective nations regarding the three broad categories stated under the statute. Tribal leaders attend with authority to represent their specific Indian tribe as a government, as do federal representatives in their capacity as federal employees. All other comments and discussion fall outside the government-to-government dialogue.

  • The concerns previously raised have included the following:
  • Consultation is not the time for federal presentations to provide training and education.
  • Framing papers developed by the federal agencies seeking a response from tribal leaders should be distributed no less than one month before the consultation if not sooner.
  • The consultation agenda should reflect a government-to-government relationship and should not be open to the public for comment or dialogue. In 2018, OVW opened the consultation process to statements by non-profit organizations. OVW justified these statements by allowing them to occur at the end of the consultation. This opening of consultation violates the government-to-government mandate. The full agenda should be dedicated to fulfilling the statutory mandates of VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013.
  • The consultation statute mandates the Attorney General, Secretary of HHS, and DOI attend the consultation, and in both 2017 and 2018, the top leadership of these Departments did not attend the consultation. While attendance by federal leadership to make remarks is important it severely limits the government-to-government engagement.