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The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (“NIWRC”) announced its VAWA Sovereignty Initiative, a project focusing on the defense of the constitutionality and functionality of all Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) tribal provisions. This Initiative is the NIWRC’s next step forward in defending the 2013 VAWA reauthorization and other important advancements in federal law and policy related to the protection of Native women and children.
The sovereignty of our Tribal Nations is under attack. As the first step in undertaking the VAWA Sovereignty Initiative, NIWRC filed an amicus brief in Dollar General Corporation, et. al. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in the United States Supreme Court. In this case, the Dollar General Corporation has asked the Supreme Court to strip Indian Tribes of all civil jurisdiction over non-Indians. Dollar General has argued that civil tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians violates the United States Constitution. Alarmingly, on December 7—when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both sides—the Justices seemed poised to agree with Dollar General. Even more alarming are the questions that came from Justice Kennedy—who made clear that he now questions the constitutionality of criminal tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians.
During the argument, Justice Kennedy questioned whether “Congress [could] pass a law saying that all 500 plus Indian Tribes in the United States have unlimited criminal authority?” Oral Argument Transcript (“Tr.”) at 24:08-12. He asked how the congressional recognition of Indian Tribes’ jurisdiction over American citizens could be considered any different from the “Congress of the United States giv[ing] the UN authority.” Tr. at 26:23-24.
It’s clear that Justice Kennedy does not believe Congress has the constitutional authority to subject American citizens to tribal jurisdiction. Specifically, he said: “I don’t know what authority Congress has to subject citizens of the United States to that nonconstitutional forum.” Tr. at 35:09-11. According to Justice Kennedy, Tribes are “nonconstitutional entities . . . because tribes are not governed by the Due Process Clause.” Tr. at 42:21-25. In the end, Justice Kennedy was downright hostile to the idea of tribal jurisdiction, stating that “[t]he Constitution runs to the people. The people have a right to insist on the Constitution even if Mississippi or the Federal government doesn’t care.” Tr. at 44:24-45:02.
The argument in Dollar General makes clear the urgency Indian Nations face. Because many Tribes do not have adequate resources to assess all of their legal vulnerabilities in implementing VAWA, a national Sovereignty Initiative is necessary to protect VAWA and tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians nationwide. NIWRC has significant history working in collaboration with the attorneys at Pipestem Law and is confident that the Firm has the skills, expertise, and commitment necessary to prepare for the defense of VAWA and tribal sovereignty.
With the funding you and your tribe provides to this Initiative, Pipestem Law will undertake the monitoring of all cases related to VAWA nationwide to ensure nothing relevant is missed. They are a key partner as their Principal, Wilson Pipestem, was a central, committed and passionate player in helping Indian Country to achieve this initial victory for VAWA in 2013. Pipestem Law will also undertake the research and work necessary to ensure that as soon as the first challenge hits the courts, Indian country is ready to respond.
But the first challenge has already hit the courts. Dollar General signals that we are not being proactive by undertaking this Initiative, we are already behind. We need your support now.
NIWRC needs the support and investment of Indian Tribes to see this Initiative through in order to protect the rights and lives of Native women. The cost to effectively implement the VAWA Sovereignty Initiative is $400,000. Because the NIWRC cannot use federal grant funds to cover the costs associated with the VAWA Sovereignty Initiative, $100,000 of the funds raised will cover the work the NIWRC’s staff does to ensure the Initiative’s success. The remaining $300,000 raised will cover the costs associated with legal fees and expenses. We rely on the assistance and generosity of Tribal Governments and good friends like you to meet this fundraising goal.
Thank you for being a champion for the rights and safety of Native women, children, families and communities! We respectfully ask that you consider making an investment in this critical work to protect tribal sovereignty and Native women.
Thank you for your support! We look forward to keeping you updated about our progress and accomplishments in this important fight for Indian Country.
NIWRC Executive Director
NIWRC Board President
WATCH: VAWA Sovereignty Initiative at 2016 Winter Session of NCAI
Pipestem Law's Mary Kathryn Nagle and Wilson Pipestem, along with NIWRC's Board Member Deborah Parker,
discuss the VAWA Sovereignty Initiative at National Congress of American Indians 2016 Winter Session.
WE OFFER TWO WAYS TO SUPPORT THE VAWA SI:
1. DONATE ONLINE: your tax-deductible contributions using our PayPal
2. MAIL YOUR DONATION: You can make tax-deductible contributions
Payable to “NIWRC Sovereignty Initiative”
Mail to PO Box 99, Lame Deer, MT 59043