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Restoration Magazine

Restoration | Volume 17 | Issue 1

Dear Friends,

It is an honor to share with you the February 2020 edition of Restoration of Native Sovereignty and Safety for Native Women. As the movement gains ground in raising awareness among policymakers, the media and in the public of the issues of violence in Indian Country, we are continuing to work alongside Tribal Nations and grassroots advocates to ensure the federal response is grounded in addressing the root causes of violence against Native women: colonization and genocide.

This is a critical time for the movement, as we look to securing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—S. 2843 and H.R. 1585. Developed in partnership with tribal and national advocacy organizations, these companion bills include critical resources for tribes to implement VAWA and necessary lifesaving amendments to enhance tribal sovereignty and safety for Native women. We are also working with policymakers on the reauthorization of the Family Violence Prevention & Services Act through companion bills S. 2259 and H.R. 5041. These bills include funding for core domestic violence shelter and supportive services and important tribal amendments to increase services and technical assistance. We continue to work with policymakers on important stand-alone bills addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis that are also pending in this Congress.

The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center is committed to providing national leadership in the work to end violence against Native women by lifting up the collective voices of Tribal Nations and Native women. Programmatic support is necessary to ensure tribes can continually benefit from NIWRC’s training and technical assistance, policy development, educational resources, and publications such as Restoration—which are rooted in traditional lifeways and beliefs.

Last fall, our board and staff drafted plans for the next five years of our work, which includes visions for our upcoming Women Are Sacred Conference, national movement building and community organizing, and overall organizational advancement. As we finalize our strategic plans to bring these visions to life, we recognize that these foundational elements of our work require significant financial investment, which we can achieve with your support. Each gift made to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and Restoration of Native Sovereignty and Safety for Native Women strengthens our mission to end violence against Native women and vision of restoring sovereignty for tribes to hold perpetrators accountable. Please consider making a donation to help advance this work at

With your support, we can restore our communities to a place of beauty, balance and safety together.


Editor's Note (02/2020)

  As we move into the new year and a new decade, the public outcry for justice for missing and murdered Native women has reached a level compelling Congress and the Administration to respond. In 2019, six bills were introduced in the House and Senate; the President issued a National Day of Awareness MMIW proclamation and created the “Operation Lady Justice” initiative, and the Senate passed the National Day of Awareness Proclamation. Yes, these actions all appear to be steps forward, but unfortunately Congress did not pass any of the proposed bills to increase the safety of Native women.

The Sovereignty of Indian Nations to Protect Native Women: Authority and Resources

  From the beginning, Indian nations and the United States engaged in international relations as sovereigns. Indian nations held full authority as sovereigns and provided broad protections for their women, citizens, and peoples, within their respective territories. As the United States began to erode the sovereignty of Indian nations and failed to fulfill its federal trust responsibility, the protections afforded Native women diminished. Women were targeted by government agents, clergymen, and the general public.

  The broad scale of atrocities committed by the United States upon Indian Nations, and specifically women, provided the basis for the growth of societal acceptance of violence against Native women. The layers of Congressional Acts, Presidential Orders, and Supreme Court rulings have, through the course of history, given legal color to what the United Nations defines as genocide. The eras of the Indian Wars, removal, assimilation, boarding schools, termination, forced sterilization, and other failed governmental policies attempted to destroy the original protections afforded Native women within their Nations.

A Crisis Created by the United States

  The current crisis of Missing and Murdered Native Women is not new. It is the total sum of the current spectrum of violence—domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, physical assaults, kidnapping, and murder—documented in federal reports, research, and statistics. More importantly, it is recorded in the lived experiences of Native women and the collective memories of their families and communities.

  Why are the victimization rates for Native women not viewed as a national crisis? Why has the government not acted to hold offenders accountable to stop the violence? The harsh reality that more than 4 in 5 American Indian women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence, more than half have experienced sexual violence (56.1 percent), and more than half (55.5 percent) have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner are a telling statement of social and governmental acceptance for these crimes.

  The societal hatred, dehumanization, and violence committed against Native women is a cultural extension of the past genocide committed by the United States. While reforming the laws and infrastructure that permitted the genocide is one task, a second task involves the cultural reeducation of mainstream America to understand both the past and present truths of American Indian Nations and the women of those Nations.

Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is one example of a political process to analyze including the concentration on government accountability for the murders of Indigenous women and girls. The report from the Inquiry released in May of 2019 said: “Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report.” The Inquiry held 24 hearings across Canada, and at least 2,380 people attended, including the families of those killed or missing. While not complete or a perfect process, it is one far in advance of the United States.

The Movement for Safety and Justice for Native Women

  The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women has become a national issue because of the demands for justice by Native women, their families, and tribal nations. This movement has brought missing and murdered Indigenous women into the national spotlight and is holding Congress and this Administration responsible. Many local reforms are also underway and will continue because the movement will not turn back and accept government tolerance and inaction to this crisis.

  While the necessary legislative path forward is complicated, it is also not unknown. Indian tribes for more than a decade have amplified their collective voices to make strong recommendations to government officials during the annual violence against women tribal consultation to address this crisis and call for immediate action. Tribal leaders have consistently reiterated that to address the crisis, full tribal sovereignty must be restored with adequate resources to implement such authority to fully protect women.

  Congress has the opportunity to make these necessary changes. Pending legislation introduced in 2019 provide reforms to strengthen the authority of Indian nations to protect women including critical resources to implement expanded protections. Legislation including reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, amending the Victims of Crime Act, and numerous stand-alone bills specifically addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women were drafted in cooperation with tribal leaders and advocates and are waiting to become law.

  For the United States, Congress, and Administration to be accountable and fulfill their trust responsibility, a groundswell of Indian tribes and a national social justice movement must continue to demand the changes needed to protect Native women. The United States has the authority and the resources to end the crisis but has not demonstrated the will. The willpower must come from the movement in its determination and dedication to restoring safety for Native women. In this highly politically charged election year, the safety of Native women should not be based on partisan politics, or the politics of profit and power over others.

Jacqueline “Jax” Agtuca
Editor, Restoration of Native Sovereignty and Safety for Native Women Magazine


Jacqueline Agtuca

APRIL IS SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH - Join the National Organizing Efforts to End Sexual Assault

  Every year Native women, advocates, and Indian tribes across the United States organize within their communities to host Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities. These community activities are essential to making strong public statements that we will not tolerate sexual violence in tribal communities. The most effective response to sexual assault is an immediate response to support victims of sexual assault and hold rapists accountable. If the system fails to respond, it sends the signal that sexual abuse is accepted, and abusers face no consequences.

  Women are sacred, and support for survivors of sexual assault is central to ending violence against Native women. Awareness activities during April are a strong statement of this support. Activities calling for justice such as walks, marches, vigils, prayer circles, and other events throughout April are various forms of tribal community statements honoring survivors of rape and sexual abuse. These activities can also be an important part of the healing journey for survivors and their communities. As the movement organizes to inform the nation and reform the criminal justice system, survivors deserve to know they are supported by their community.

  One of the strongest forms of support to honor survivors is demanding the justice system hold sexual assault offenders accountable. Indian tribes and advocates have worked hard with national allies and Congressional champions to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to include the authority of Indian tribes to prosecute non-Indians who sexually assault Native women within tribal jurisdiction. Unfortunately, Congressional negotiations to reauthorize VAWA have stalled in the Senate. During April, we urge you to call upon your members of Congress at their district offices to discuss the urgency of reauthorizing VAWA for victims and survivors of sexual assault. Let them know why reauthorization of VAWA, House Bill 1585 and Senate Bill 2853, is urgently needed. Also, ask that they sign onto the Justice for Native Survivors Act, House Bill 3977 and Senate Bill 288, which are important marker bills that if passed, would enhance the authority of Indian tribes to prosecute non-Indians who sexually assault Native women within tribal jurisdiction. Expanding jurisdiction is urgently needed as a step forward to ending the sexual assault of Native women and girls.

  “When the system has failed you time and time, and time again, you don’t feel empowered. It feels like a disconnect between this moment of ‘Me Too’ and the reality of Indian country and sexual assault.”—Sarah Deer, “A Broken Trust, Sexual Assault and Justice on Tribal Lands.”

Lack of Services for Native Survivors of Sexual Assault

  The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute 64% of sexual assault cases across all reservations from 2013-2018. Access to services for sexual assault survivors is similarly limited. Approximately 34% of Native women are raped in their lifetime, and nearly half will experience sexual violence other than rape within their lifetime. When Native women are raped, they are more likely to experience other physical violence during the attack, their attacker is more likely to have a weapon, and they are more likely to have injuries requiring medical attention. Sexual Assault Examiner (SAE) and Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) programs have been shown to improve both the care of survivors of sexual assault and criminal justice outcomes in sexual assault cases. These programs, SAEs and SARTs, are instrumental in facilitating immediate access to appropriate health care and other services for survivors and for minimizing re-victimization by the justice system. A 2014 study used GIS mapping to evaluate the proximity of trained forensic examiners to 650 census-identified Native American lands. The study found that more than two-thirds of Native American lands are more than 60 minutes away from the nearest sexual assault forensic examiner.

Jacqueline Agtuca

A BROKEN TRUST - Investigation Uncovers a Broken Justice System for Survivors of Sexual Assault on Tribal Lands

Image Caption: 
“I was a victim when I was 13, a victim when I was 14 and a victim when I was 34.”—Twila Szymanski, above, in ‘A Broken Trust.’ Now 40, Twila has lived on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeast Montana since she was born and is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes. | Photo courtesy of Newsy.

Story courtesy of Newsy

  Over the course of an 18-month investigation into prosecutions of sexual assault on tribal lands, Newsy reporters uncovered breakdowns in the federal and tribal criminal justice systems so severe that sexual perpetrators often received minimal or no punishment and survivors were left with little justice.

  More than half of American Indian and Alaska Native women report having experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. Yet, survivors face a unique set of hurdles when they seek justice for an assault on tribal lands. The Newsy investigation “A Broken Trust” takes a deeper look at the impact of a complex, centuries-old relationship between tribal nations and the federal government.

  For the project, Newsy’s investigative team spent time with members of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes living on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana and members of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes) on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. From survivors to police to tribal leaders to federal officials, “A Broken Trust” gives a voice to the people involved in this complex system.

  Documents, reports, and dozens of interviews reveal how the federal government, which is legally required to protect tribal communities, has repeatedly failed to adequately fund and staff tribal justice systems and limited the tribes’ ability to prosecute and sentence sexual crimes to the fullest extent.
  Among the investigation’s findings:

  • U.S. Attorneys are responsible for prosecuting major crimes committed on reservations. Newsy found that in Montana, the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute 64% of sexual assault cases across all reservations from 2013-2018.
  • Most tribal nations have no jurisdiction over those who are legally defined as “non-Indians.”
  • And most tribal courts are limited to one-year sentences for any crime, including rape. Records obtained from the Fort Berthold tribal prosecutor’s office, in North Dakota, show their court handed down sentences for only three cases of sexual assault from 2013 to mid-2018. The sentences ranged from eight days to six months.
  • The 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act allowed tribes to enhance sentencing for up to three years, if they meet certain requirements. Yet only 16 of the 319 federally recognized tribal judicial systems have implemented the Tribal Law and Order Act’s enhanced sentencing.
  • Even after the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana implemented enhanced sentencing, tribal prosecutors didn’t file for enhanced sentencing in any sexual assault convictions from 2013 to 2018. The longest sentence was still one year.

  “A Broken Trust’ is available online, and we encourage Indian tribes and advocates to host screenings and discussions of the film during the 2020 Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” says Elizabeth Carr, NIWRC Senior Native Affairs Policy Advisor. “The film sends a strong message on the importance of expanding jurisdiction to cover cases of sexual assault by amending VAWA and lessening the burdensome requirements for tribes to implement enhanced sentencing authority by amending TLOA.”

About Newsy
  Newsy is the leading cross-platform television news network that provides “news with the why,” built to inform and engage by delivering the top stories across every platform. Its content is available on cable; on over-the-top services including Hulu, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Sling TV, Pluto TV, and Google Chromecast; and on connected television, including Xumo. Newsy is also available via its mobile apps and at


The Right to Safe Housing and Federal Responsibility to Indian Tribes

A Statement Prepared by the NIWRC Policy Team Members Jacqueline Agtuca, Elizabeth Carr, Brenda Hill, Paula Julian, and Rose Quilt

  The right of American Indian and Native Hawaiian women to safety was historically recognized by Indigenous nations long before colonization by Europeans. This right of women to safety within one’s home and in the community was assured by the beliefs and lifeways of their respective nations, and today housing is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.1 The current challenges facing Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians in assuring this right is intertwined with the failure of the federal government to fulfill its federal trust responsibility to Indigenous nations to provide safe, stable communities.

U.S. Colonization Undermined the Relationship of Native Women to the Land and Their Homes

  The multifaceted layers of United States colonization historically undermined the right of women to safety within their homes and destroyed the housing infrastructure of Indigenous Nations. Current federal law and policies fail to recognize and continue to diminish tribal sovereignty. The failure of the United States to fulfill its federal trust responsibility has severe consequences for women, including the lack of available housing, leaving them vulnerable to violence with many forced to flee their homes due to the lack of protections. This harsh reality is intertwined with the spectrum of violence that Native women continue to endure.

  The U.S., through the multiple layers of colonization, destroyed the traditional homes and communities of Indigenous nations and failed to deliver the infrastructure and critical resources to provide safe and stable housing within Indigenous nations. The U.S. displacement of Indigenous nations through forced removal created substandard living conditions that left families without adequate or stable shelter. The United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from Indigenous nations by presidential executive orders and through treaties. The total acreage seized from Indian tribes is estimated to be 1/8 of the world2 and 1.8 million acres from the Native Hawaiian monarchy.3 “The United States’ primary interest in treaty-making was to acquire Indian land so the treaties were used for that purpose.”4

  Additional Acts passed by Congress resulted in the further destruction of Indigenous land bases and the Native housing infrastructure, which specifically disrupted the status of Native women. Generally, Indigenous nations were and continue to be matrilineal. The responsibility for the home belonged primarily with the woman as the matriarch and head of household. Land settlement acts passed by Congress failed to address the vulnerabilities to the violence imposed upon Native women as a result of their displacement from their traditional homelands and destruction of their status within their nations.

  Congressional Acts, Executive Orders, and Supreme Court decisions under the color of law were instruments of genocide under the definition of the United Nations. These federal laws and policies were utilized to terminate Indian tribes, overthrow the Native Hawaiian monarchy, dispossess and destroy homes, including the social infrastructure, that ensured the safety of American Indian and Native Hawaiian women. The Indian Removal Act of 18305 forced Indian Nations to move westward from their lands and homes east of the Mississippi. The Dawes Act6 of 1887 authorized the President of the United States to divide tribal collective lands into individual plots. The original relationship to the land and tribal way of life was further undermined as the western system of individual property ownership was imposed on Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians. In many instances, agents implementing the Act did not recognize women as the “heads of families,” which prevented them from receiving allotments.7 The California Rancheria Termination Acts8 of 1958 implemented the U.S. termination policy with Indian tribes in California. The Acts forced the removal of tribal peoples onto lands named rancherias that had limited housing options and these lands and assets would later be placed into private ownership. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 19719 attempted to eliminate the relationship of the Indigenous peoples of Alaska to their ancestral homelands. Alaska Native tribes were matrilineal, and continue to be, and women held responsibility for the home.10 Other federal acts also resulted in the loss of tribal traditional lands and homes altering the status of women and increasing their vulnerability to violence by government agents, including the military, corporations and churches, and the public.

  “Thus in 2 or 3 days about 8,000 people, many of whom were in good circumstances, and some rich were rendered homeless, houseless, and penniless exposed to all the ills of captivity.”11

The U.S. government has a federal trust responsibility to support Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians in providing safe housing to address the current vulnerabilities to violence that endanger Native women.

  Increased recognition and progress toward fulfilling the federal trust responsibility to support Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians to safeguard the lives of Native women is urgent. Federal law and the failure to fulfill this trust responsibility have resulted in Native women being displaced without safe shelter, placing them in settings where they are vulnerable to violence by government agents, members of the clergy, predators, sex traffickers, and abusers.

  The lack of safe housing increases the risk of Native women to gender-based violence.
•  Less than 50 Native based shelters for domestic violence exist in the United States.
•  Housing infrastructure is inadequate on tribal lands held in trust by the federal government.
•  Federal appropriations to Indian tribes to create and maintain housing are inadequate and must be increased to provide safe housing.

Federal reforms are needed to provide a range of safe housing for Native women.

  Federal programs exist to fulfill the trust responsibility to support Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians to provide safe housing, and these programs must be strengthened.12 The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) was enacted in 1996 to reorganize federal housing programs and increase tribal access in recognition of tribal self-determination. NAHASDA must be strengthened to achieve its goal of supporting housing for Indian tribes.

  In addition, federal programs must include increased support for Indian tribes to create and maintain safe housing for Native women and tribal communities. The Violence Against Women Act, the Victims of Crime Act, and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act are federal funding streams that exist but do not adequately address the need for safe housing as a necessary means for Native women to live free of abuse and violence. Indian tribes need federal support to develop a range of safe housing, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent housing. To be effective in supporting their healing journey and recovery from violence, housing programs for Native women must be established based on the specific tribal beliefs of the survivors.

Current 2019-2020 Legislation

  Pending Congressional legislation supports safe housing but does not address the outstanding and urgent needs of Indian tribes and Native women. The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) is the primary federal funding stream dedicated to the support of emergency shelter and related assistance for victims of domestic violence and their children. The Senate and House bills to reauthorize the Family Violence and Prevention Services Act (FVPSA) do not include the urgent need for increased funding for Indian tribes to provide safe housing for Native women.

  1. United Nations, International Bill of Rights,
  2. The Invasion of America, University of Georgia,,
  3. U.S. Public Law 103-150, 103rd Congress Joint Resolution 19, Nov. 23, 1993.
  4. Kevin Gover, Director, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, The “Indian Problem,”
  5. The Indian Removal Act, Pub.L. 21–148, 1830.
  6. General Allotment of 1887.
  7. 43 U.S. 581, Sally Ladiga, Plaintiff in Error, v. Richard de Marcus Roland, and Peter Heifner, Defendants.
  8. California Rancheria Termination Acts of 1958.
  9. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
  10. Yup’ik Elder William Trader.
  11. Daniel S. Butrick, Cherokee removal: The Journal of Rev. Daniel S. Butrick, May 19, 1838 – April 1, 1839. The Trail of Tears Association, Oklahoma Chapter; 1st edition (1998).
  12. Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas, A Report from the Assessment of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Housing Needs, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban, Development Office of Policy Development and Research, 2017,

SAFE HOUSING: The Need for Shelters for Native Women Who are Battered

By Brenda Hill (Siksika), Director of Technical Assistance and Training, NIWRC

  The home, who leaves when domestic violence occurs? In discussions about the importance of safe shelter and advocacy services the assumption often is that a woman who is battered must be the one to escape, find shelter, and then permanent housing. Let us stop for a moment and ask ourselves a question about this western assumption now common across Indian tribes. Why do we as advocates and as a social justice movement find it acceptable that women who are victims of serial violence are expected to leave their homes?
  Our movement for the safety for Native women began with our belief of women as sacred and that as relatives we are responsible for each other. This belief was indigenous to tribal peoples as a way of life. Our movement began with the purpose of making women safe, including in their own homes, and the original protections of our tribal beliefs offers a strong foundation to continue to guide our movement.

  I remember a woman with this belief saying, ‘I’m not leaving. I pay for this house. I bought everything in it. Why is everybody telling me I have to leave my own home? And then you tell me I’m a victim, and then you tell me it’s not my fault, but I’m the one who’s got to go.’ A few months later her position changed. ‘I give up. I left. I left my own home. I had to leave all my stuff. Are you sure I’m the victim? I have to give up everything—what about him?’

  In our conversations about shelter and advocacy we need to challenge the assumption that survivors of violence must escape from their own home. We also need to understand why this is the assumption of the western justice system. Why it is also the assumption of the range of service providers? Too often advocates also work under this assumption.
  Why is it too dangerous for survivors to stay within their own home? Is it because the United States is not upholding the federal trust responsibility to support Indian tribes in safeguarding the lives of Indian women? Native women are forced to flee their homes and often homelands due to federal law and policies that leave them unprotected and vulnerable. The lack of sufficient appropriations to Indian tribes to support adequate law enforcement, batterer’s reeducation, a health response, and safe housing are just some examples of the consequences of a failed federal system. It’s important to question why, as Native people, we struggle to provide safety for victims and offender accountability. The end result of this failed system is put on the backs of the victims. The survivors are forced to find their way through it all.

Accountability for Abusers so Victims Are Not Forced to Become Homeless

  A man who had himself been arrested for domestic violence asked me why victims are forced to hide out. He started out saying, “I know a lot of guys who are batterers. And after thinking about it I came up with a huge list of men that I know are battering their wives and that weren’t arrested. And this is huge issue. I want to know why there is not some shelter for them.” And his point was that you’re making these women and their kids hide out in a shelter and they can’t go freely about their lives, but these guys are. “Why aren’t the guys put in some kind of shelter where they can’t move around freely.” He understood forcing women and their children to leave their home is wrong. While I would not call it shelter, appropriate jail time, extended, intensive probation, and court ordered long-term, culturally-based batterers reeducation is appropriate – though funding and housing are, again, major issues.

A Continuum of Services for Women Who are Battered to Heal

  Before colonization the tribe or family of a man who hurt a woman would be so shamed, they took responsibility for making sure she was safe. But in modern times, this has changed. Today shelters are integral to women’s safety, yet women also need a continuum of services based on the complexities of reclaiming one’s life. It is inhuman to require someone traumatized to deal with safety, courts, child custody, housing and so many other all at the same time. It’s like requiring someone who has been repeatedly hit by a truck, to get up and carry on with life. Women need some place to rest and heal. It is a necessity.

  Traditionally there was an understanding that you don’t heal alone. Women have a need to come together. There is healing in coming together. It is about relationships and we need each other to get through the difficulties, all the challenges. Anyone who has been battered will probably say it was being able to talk to other women that have been through it, that helped them understand their own experience and be able to heal from it. That is the origin of advocacy.

  In the early 2000s, Sacred Circle National Resource Center reported 26 Native shelters, and currently there are approximately 55 shelters for Native women. Just thirty Native shelters were added over the last twenty years. Why only twenty? The number of Native shelters is connected to the lack of adequate federal funding. It is also connected to the lack of tribal infrastructure including staff to apply for grant funds to create and maintain a shelter. Some tribes have staff to write grants while many do not. Tribes just do not have the staff to write the applications to access the funding for a shelter. A third issue is finding staff, either survivors, or survivors of a close relative that understand the need for the shelter program and has the wherewithal to pull it together. In small villages for example the amount of money it takes to run a shelter is expensive and difficult. And in many tribes, it goes back to having a building available for a shelter. It is also a question of the number of survivors needing services or shelter. It may not be realistic. In these tribal communities a consortium may be the approach to take.

  The funding under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) has been the anchor for tribal shelter programs for decades. As the only federal program dedicated to shelter and related services it has made a real difference. Shelter and program directors love FVPSA because it is flexible enough for real women’s (and their children’s) needs. This flexible funding is needed because each tribe is different and the healing journey for Native women varies. A Native woman in a Yup’ik speaking village in Alaska has beliefs and traditions specific to her tribal nation that are distinct from a Lakota woman. While the funding under FVPSA was never adequate, because it is flexible it addresses the needs of tribal women and other survivors, more than other federal programs. When you looked at advocates on the ground, the women needing services, there’s just simply not enough funding. We can provide all the technical assistance in the world, but for a program without sufficient funding, it does not matter.

  Indian tribes have advocated for amendments to FVPSA that are included in its 2019 reauthorization. These tribal amendments were all included in the pending bills except for the amendment that would increase funding to Indian tribes to provide shelter and services to women. Given a shelter or advocacy can mean the difference between life or death for a Native woman FVPSA must be a priority. Congress should fulfill its federal trust responsibility and include the increased funding for the tribes.


Brenda Hill (Siksika)

Report from the National Workgroup on Safe Housing for American Indian and Alaska Native Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

  The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence convened a meeting in Phoenix, Arizona June 4-5, 2019 to establish a National Workgroup on Safe Housing for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Survivors of Gender-Based Violence. The goal of this workgroup was to bring together experts from Indian Country who work in the fields of gender-based violence and housing to develop policy and create concrete recommendations for technical assistance, resources and other supports for the sole purpose of increasing the availability of safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable housing for AI/AN survivors of gender-based violence.

  At the core of this convening were essential questions about how we can be good relatives to one another, to our nonhuman kinship and to the Land. Because if housing stability is going to be fully realized, we have to ask and answer important questions about what it means to have a duty to one another, about what it means to do good work and to be good people. If we start from the framework that we all deserve safety, that we all deserve a place to belong, that we all deserve community, we can start to move forward. If we can believe that housing and shelter are basic human rights, just as they are basic human needs, we can start to see the outlines of what it is that we have to change about our existing framework and about how we have set about doing this work in the past. What the convening showed us, if anything, is that we truly need time to get our arms around these issues, because the actualization of housing stability will require a major shift in how we have approached this issue historically.

  The following individuals were active participants in our workgroup convening on June 4-5, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona:
Kris Billhardt (National Alliance for Safe Housing); Donna Fairbanks (National Native Housing Training Consultant); Brenda Hill and Gwen Packard (National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center); Eileen Hudon (Independent Consultant); Tami Jerue (Anvik Tribal Council, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center); Sheila Lamb (Life House); Caroline LaPorte (Independent Consultant); Tatewin Means (Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation); Anne Menard and Heidi Notario (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence); Linda Retka (National American Indian Housing Council); Liana Sanchez (Avanyu, LLC); Christine Stark (Independent Consultant); and Diana Yazzie Devine (Native American Connections).

Historical Relevance

  The need for safe, affordable and sustainable housing is a grave concern for AI/AN gender-based violence survivors, the advocates and services who seek to help them, and for their communities who value them. This is especially true considering that domestic violence and sexual assault are the leading causes of homelessness in most communities within the United States.1 The shelter and housing “crisis” in Indian Country and for AI/AN people is nothing new. Housing issues have been present ever since the moment that Indigenous ways of life and tribal communities were destroyed by colonization. A quick study on the eras of federal Indian law and policy make it clear that inhumane practices towards AI/AN peoples and Indian Tribes have historically been the norm and housing is not an exception.

  The basic lack of housing for AI/AN peoples is factually the result of massive land theft, systemic removal and other intentional acts across the timeline of the United States’ history.  The treatment of AI/AN people, of Indian Tribes with regards to land became statutorily enshrined around 1830, when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act under the tutelage of one Andrew Jackson. Between 1832 and 1843, most Eastern tribes were removed to the West or were forced to live on smaller reservations East.2

  Between 1887 and 1934, the federal policy towards Indian people was shaped by two efforts: 1) take Indian Lands for settlement by whites and 2) take Indians, specifically children, and assimilate to them into white society.3 As a result, the General Allotment Act (commonly referred to as the Dawes Act) was passed. The overall goal of the Dawes Act was “to extinguish tribal sovereignty, erase reservation boundaries, and force the assimilation of Indians into society at large.”4 In accordance with the Act the President was authorized to divide “communally held tribal lands into separate parcels (‘allotments’).”5 Tribal members were assigned an allotment and a trust was supposed to ensue after a set period of time. The remaining tribal land was sold to non-Indian farmers. The idea was to satisfy the goals of non-Indian settlers while making Indians white (and thereby eliminating Indian poverty), simply by having them live in close proximity to one another.6 The act was successful at taking tribal communal land and transferring it to white colonizers for individual consumption, but it was not at all successful in eliminating Indian poverty, which occurred as a direct result of the policy and treatment of AI/AN people since the first contact between Indians and non-Indians occurred.7 First, the Indians had no desire to become white because they were already Indians. Second, the allotments they received, upon which they were to farm and ranch, were not suitable for agriculture. Due to their poverty, many Indians were forced to sell their allotments to white colonizers or they lost the land to foreclosures. Of the nearly 150 million acres of land that tribes owned in 1887, by the time the Dawes Act was repealed in 1934, less than 50 million acres remained.8 My own ancestors lost an 80-acre allotment of land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the East side of Monocle Lake. It is now part of the Hiawatha National Forest.

  Thus, the housing crisis in Indian Country has to be viewed first as a historical injustice, one that has been utilized as a tool in the ongoing genocide of indigenous populations. The same is true for the high incidence of gender-based violence in AI/AN populations. The housing crisis and the high rates of violence, lack of adequate resources and criminal justice response to that violence in Indian Country and in communities where AI/AN people reside outside of Indian Country, cannot be viewed as randomized or even consequential occurrences, but rather as manifestations of a larger goal: the eradication of Indigenous people from their lands.

Intersection of Housing and Gender-Based Violence for American Indian and Alaska Native Survivors

  The need for safe, affordable, accessible and stable housing is one of the most pressing concerns for American Indian and Alaska Native survivors of gender-based violence. Domestic and sexual violence are leading causes of homelessness for women and children generally.9 Housing is a basic human right, yet AI/AN survivors of gender-based violence frequently report access, habitability or sustainability issues, leading to layers of vulnerability and increased risk of new or continued victimization. These issues are felt almost universally by the AI/AN population across the housing spectrum. Just as there are urgent issues for AI/AN survivors of gender-based violence who attempt to access shelters or emergency and transitional housing, the same issues are present with regards to the availability of housing assistance and affordable, habitable, sustainable and stable housing.
  Please note that for the purposes of this report, the term AI/AN people includes AI/AN people in Indian Country and off reservation. AI/AN people reside in all communities, tribal or non-Tribal, urban or rural, and the policy recommendations included at the end of this report would need to be differentiated based on the needs of AI/AN peoples and based on the resources that can be found within our communities. Consultation would also be needed in order to vet these recommendations through Tribal leadership, who are in the best possible position to know and elevate the needs of their Nations.

  The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) through the USDOJ released a study in May, 2016, which found that American Indian and Alaska Native women experience severe rates of violence in their lifetimes, including:

  • 56.1% have experienced sexual violence;
  • 55.5% have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner;
  • 48.4% have experienced stalking; and
  • 66.4% have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner.10

  Of the women who experienced sexual violence, 96% of them were victimized by at least one non-Indian perpetrator. This cannot be ignored, though it is certainly true that intraracial violence occurs in tribal communities as well. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report issued in 2017 found that Non-Hispanic black and American Indian and Alaska Native women experienced the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population, respectively).11 The CDC report further concluded that there was a strong link between homicide and intimate partner violence, finding that 55.4% of the cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives were at the hands of an intimate partner.12 38% of these women were killed with a firearm.13

  The link between homelessness and sex trafficking victimization is equally strong and was discussed at the convening extensively. The report “Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women,” found that of the 105 women who were prostituted and sex trafficked, 98% of them were either currently experiencing or had experienced homelessness.14

 These numbers represent the lived experiences of AI/AN women. They are not simply statistics or talking points. They are real individuals, with real experiences of violence in their lives. It is essential to center their stories, which are lacking in this report. It is going to be imperative moving forward to include survivors’ voices into reports such as this one. While working group participants brought their many experiences to the table during the convening, hearing valuable anecdotal information from survivors was not the focus of the convening itself. The focus of the convening was to look at systemic issues from a practice and policy lens.

The Convening

  The intention of this convening was to bring together advocates from diverse fields, backgrounds, regions, and experiences in order to begin thinking about what
During the convening, the following became clear:

  • Domestic violence/sexual assault/stalking/sex trafficking advocates could make exceptional gains in their advocacy efforts with increased interaction and collaboration with public housing advocates/advocates who address housing instability and homelessness;
  • It is essential that public housing authorities/advocates who address homelessness receive training on serving their clients who are experiencing gender-based violence;
  • Tribal governments need adequate training on gender-based violence and on the barriers that survivors in their communities face. They need a foundational understanding of how housing intersects with the experience of violence in their communities;
  • The gender-based violence field needs education on the development of community projects/housing projects and on how to access and utilize different funding sources, housing projects and models;
  • There are a variety of successful housing models that could be utilized to meet survivor needs like permanent supportive housing;
  • Stakeholder participants were in agreement that the multiple silos are in place across their respective fields creating a barrier to effective services;
  • Youth led movements are inherently valuable and create overwhelmingly positive outcomes in their communities;
  • There are certain quick policy fixes, which might improve housing options in the immediate future (for example, allocating Domestic Violence Bonus Funds to supplement Indian Block Grants), but which might not address overall policy goals for the gender-based violence field in Indian Country (like the full realization of inherent tribal authority over tribal lands);
  • There are longer term policy goals, which might improve housing options in a sustainable way, and which also might be a disruption to colonial constructs around housing, such as ownership of land (for example, full recognition of treaty rights or return of land to Indigenous populations)15;
  • Any solutions must address the whole of the individual survivor, as well as the needs of the community; and
  • Traditional ways of living are paramount to actual safety and prevention work.

Ongoing Questions of the Workgroup

  Because the working group was able to begin delving into the many layered issues of housing access, instability and inequality for survivors in AI/AN communities, the convening produced additional questions that need to be explored further. These questions were not resolved by the working group because they are inherently difficult to answer and are existential in nature. They also ask us to examine our underlying premises for the ways in which we have traditionally approached this work with our funders. We have to accept that these are the issues that are at hand for all of us, not just for AI/AN advocates and survivors. An illustrative, not exhaustive, list of these questions is provided below:
1. How do you address the tension between western concept of homeownership and economic stability and the Indigenous understanding and teachings around land, Earth, and our responsibility to her?  
2. Why do we displace survivors from their homes and their communities? Why do we displace their sense of belonging and deprioritize their normalcy and stability?
3. How can one instill commitment to safety and security for survivors across the various public housing options found in Indian Country/off reservation settings where AI/AN peoples live?
4. How can we incorporate restorative justice concepts into housing for survivors and still maintain safety and confidentiality?
5. How do we create healthy and safe communities that thrive?
6. When addressing offenders, who are often victims themselves, how do we maintain that every individual has value and create access to healing while still maintaining offender accountability?

  Other questions arose that can be answered with additional time and funding allocated to continue the work of the group:
7. How does permanent supportive housing become a safe and available option for survivors of gender-based violence?
8. How do we help advocates have a better understanding of housing as a highly regulated industry?
9. How can we support housing advocates who can navigate the systems in place?

Core Conversations and Themes that Emerged from the Workgroup

  The workgroup’s core conversations centered on the following: the housing spectrum, survivors needs, the Trust Responsibility of the Federal Government, Historical Trauma, The Violence Against Women Act, Tribal Housing Codes, The Picture of Poverty and Homelessness In AI/AN
communities, The Need for Culturally Created Resources, The Role of  Tribal Government, Alaska Specific Needs, and Creative Ways to Leverage Funding.

Policy Recommendations Highlights

  The following are policy recommendations that emerged from the working group as well as from the listening session and the critical conversation which were both held at the FVPSA Tribal grantee meeting. These recommendations were the culmination of the conversations that have occurred over the past year, but they are not meant to be exhaustive. Additional conversations have to happen to ensure that this list is representative of all AI/AN peoples in the United States. A report is forthcoming that details the policy recommendations, the themes that emerged during the convening, and the core conversations that were had. While it awaits approval, the following article is a summation of what was discussed. Again, this is not exhaustive (the actual report is around 60 pages):
a. Create a Tribal Housing Consortium; a group for culturally relevant TA and technical assistance providers, similar to the DV Housing Consortium that already exists in the mainstream gender-based violence field in order to build Responsive TA in a comprehensive manner;
b. Fund listening sessions with survivors, where survivors are compensated for their time, so that the working group can competently assist survivors in crafting policy that would ensure AI/AN peoples who are two-spirit, who have disabilities, who are non-English language speakers, and other additional marginalized identities can be represented more fully in working group reports; or alternatively or who are funded to develop the work themselves with support from a funded Tribal Housing Consortium;
c. Fund a Youth Component to the Tribal Housing Consortium that is youth led and youth developed;
d. Change the definition of chronic homelessness to make permanent supportive housing more available to survivors of gender-based violence;
e. If necessary or beneficial, work with the National American Indian Housing Council to draft a resolution in support of advocating for changes to tribal housing codes where needed, which either more closely mirror the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, or that address the unique needs of survivors in their community;
f. Support training and technical assistance for the gender-based violence field in AI/AN communities (including urban) to better understand how to leverage housing funds that are available and to better understand development of housing projects or other models, such as permanent supportive housing.
g. Support and fund training and technical assistance efforts to educate service providers, tribal governments, tribal HUD authorities, and other stakeholders on domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence.
h. Support the development of a toolkit that focuses solely on funding and how it can be layered to meet the needs for survivors;
i. Support DV Bonus Funding for housing survivors in tribal communities, similar to the one here
j. Support the development of a toolkit for Tribal Public Housing Agencies regarding the  operation and management of permanent supportive housing for tribes;
h. Support the ongoing meetings of this working group, expanded to include others, so that the group can narrow in on one or more of these policy recommendations and develop the recommendation(s);
l. Fully fund Indian Housing Block Grants at least to the levels recommended in ONAP’s 2017 report;
m. Increase Tribal FVPSA and statutorily include funding for the AKNWRC, for the StrongHearts Native Helpline, and for tribal coalitions who provide lifesaving services to gender-based violence survivors in Tribal communities. These statutorily created organizations either do not have their own funding allocation or are completely shut NAHASDA out (in the instance of tribal coalitions) from accessing lifesaving FVPSA dollars;
n. A permanent tribal set aside out of the CVF that is equal or greater to 5% of the cap established by Congress in each year;
o. Advocate for full consultation with Indian Tribes on the allocation of VOCA dollars and on the application process and the oversight of those monies;
p. Fund the working group to research the ways that states, and territories creatively use and layer VOCA funding to support housing stability for gender-based violence survivors;
q. Fully staff a tribal VOCA office; and
r. Get clarification regarding whether the restriction of Tribal VOCA dollars to disallow building new construction is one of agency discretion or if there is a statutory prohibition against new construction.


  The working group is expected to reconvene (and grow) in order to more fully develop these recommendations. Again, the working group met over the course of a day and half. What the working group found to be essential was that space was created over that day and a half to convene individuals from different fields, rather than creating a silo-ed space with gender-based violence advocates only. It was incredibly beneficial to hear from the experts who work p