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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013-Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. CANTWELL. Madam President, I thank the leader, Senator Leahy, for his leadership in trying to get the Violence Against Women Act passed and for being down here and working on an agreement with the other side of the aisle so we can vote either today or in the near future. Hopefully, we will bring this issue to an end and get along with protecting the rights of women throughout the United States of America.

I am very anxious to help and further that debate. I come to the floor as the chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and as somebody who has spent a lot of time dealing with tribal leadership in the State of Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest. I know the Presiding Officer has a very large tribal population within her State too. I am sure she has had had many experiences with those tribes. Like me, she wants to make sure all victims of domestic violence are protected in America.

In Washington State, we receive over 30,000 domestic violence calls a year. That is more than 500 incidents per week. Our domestic violence programs serve about 1,800 people each day, and that is why we need to move past this debate, get this legislation reauthorized, so we make sure we help protect victims.

A woman named Carissa Daniels came to one of our events recently. She fled from a very abusive domestic violence situation with her 3-year-old daughter. She said she is alive because of the Violence Against Women Act. Those safeguards and protections protected her and her daughter.

I come to the floor, and I am a little frustrated this debate has been bogged down over a few issues, particularly this issue as it relates to Native Americans and the rights of Native Americans.

I think we had the Department of Justice come to the Congress with a very good solution because their point was we have an epidemic of violence against women in Indian country, and we don't have a ready solution as it relates to the necessary law enforcement there to protect them.

I don't mean to be elementary, but going back through our country's history and our relationship with tribal governments, it is a Federal relationship. To secure that Federal relationship, we have basically said these are rights for the Federal Government and not the States. In many ways, we have eliminated what States can do as it relates to tribal land. The challenge we have is that on these tribal reservations we need to make sure the law is enforced--a Federal law--and that there are individuals to carry out that Federal law.

By voting for the underlying amendment, maybe my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have an appropriations authorization that says this is how we are going to deal with it: We are going to give you a Federal prosecutor and a Federal agent on every tribal reservation or in every jurisdiction. I don't know how many that would be in my State. We have vast and huge amounts of land. I guess, if they thought that was going to be effective, there would have to be a prosecutor and a Federal agent in probably 39 different parts of my State. If we multiply that in the West--or even just in the Presiding Officer's State--we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars the Federal Government would have to dole out to properly police and enforce Federal law as it relates to crimes against these women.

Why isn't anybody recommending that? Because I think the Department of Justice has adequately seen that the best way to do this is to build a partnership with those tribal jurisdictions to get that done.

In looking over the history of this, I am always amazed at what previous administrations--Republican administrations--said about this tribal relationship. Even George H.W. Bush's Solicitor General Kenneth Starr stated in a filing in the Supreme Court that ``it remains true today that the State has no jurisdiction over on-reservation offenses involving Indians. ..... ''

George W. Bush's Solicitor General said that ``the policy of leaving Indians free from State jurisdiction and control'' is one that ``is deeply rooted in the Nation's history.''

So here are Republican administrations that have basically said the way to deal with this is a Federal relationship. I am saying to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that unless they are willing to put a Federal prosecutor and a Federal agent on all tribal reservations, who do they think is going to prosecute these crimes? Who? Who is going to prosecute them? That is why the Department of Justice came to us and said: We have an idea on how we might do it. Let's try to get a partnership with tribal jurisdictions to make sure justice is being brought on tribal land but do so by protecting the civil liberties of American citizens as we go through this process.

That is the legislation that is before us. It passed out of the Judiciary Committee and is now on the Senate floor. My colleagues across the aisle are trying to strip those very rights that Native American women would have.

The way this would work is obviously tribal jurisdictions would prosecute these individuals. If there is anyone who doesn't think this is a problem--it is amazing to me to think this concept that one of our other colleagues might be proposing, that somehow we would say: OK. A solution would be to say it is a lesser crime if an Indian woman is assaulted on a tribal reservation, and it would be a misdemeanor. Somehow aggressive abuse and violent attacks against women would be a misdemeanor. I am not going to treat Native American women as second-class citizens in the United States of America.

I get that might have been the cultural norm of the 1700s and 1800s, but it has no place in our history in 2013. This is about legislation that will protect tribal women on Indian reservations and make sure these cases of abuse--whether they are done by a Native American or non-Native American--are protected.

Consider the case of Diane Millich. Her ex-husband was never arrested any of the more than 100 times he had beaten her or attacked her. Finally, he showed up at her workplace with a gun to kill her. She is alive because an individual from her workplace pushed her out of the way. Her husband is being treated as a first-time offender because all those other times he beat her or domestically assaulted her, he was never prosecuted because it took place on a reservation.

This epidemic is so great that now these people who are involved in sex and drug trafficking are targeting reservations and Indian women because they know they will not get prosecuted. They know this.

We are allowing an intolerable situation to grow in great extremes simply because we are missing a vital tool. I get that many of my colleagues may not understand the history of tribal law and the history of our country and securing a relationship with tribes and the treaties we signed.

Again, as I said before, this is a relationship we have

preserved for the Federal Government, and the Federal Government is saying this is how we can best solve these crimes by getting the help and support of tribal jurisdictions.

I wish to say to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, because I have heard some of them say that somehow this violates the civil liberties of non-Native Americans if these crimes happen in Indian Country, that nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, all tribal courts also adhere to the Indian Civil Rights Act, which is basically our 14th amendment. So the security of the 14th amendment is right there in the law and will protect any non-Native American who is charged with this crime on a reservation.

Secondly, this law has specifically broad language, making sure the defendant would be protected with all rights required by the United States in order for this jurisdiction to have oversight. It is almost like a double protection--saying it twice--that the habeas corpus rights of individuals will be protected under this statute.

The notion that this is somehow abrogating individual rights just because the crime takes place on a tribal reservation is incorrect. So I ask my colleagues: Do we want to continue to have this unbelievable growth and petri dish of crime evolving--when criminals know there is a porous border, that is where they are going to go--or do we want to partner with a recommendation that has been determined by the Department of Justice, which has the authority to carry out this Federal law on tribal reservations and is asking for this partnership but with due protection so we can root out this evil in our communities.

I would say to my colleagues, it is time to pass this legislation and protect these rights for all individuals. We cannot vote for an amendment on the other side of the aisle that basically strips the rights of Native American women and treats them like second-class citizens, nor can we just go silent on what is an epidemic problem in our country. What we have to do is stand and realize that the relationship between the Federal Government and Indian Country is a very mature relationship with a lot of Federal case law behind it. A lot of Republican administrations recognize it is a Federal relationship and that we can--asking Indian Country to help us--solve this problem and prosecute these individuals under the rights we have as constitutional citizens of the United States.

I am confident we can get to an answer and resolve this issue. I say to my colleagues: We need to do so with urgency. We cannot allow another 1,800 calls to go unanswered or not supported because we have not authorized this legislation. Let's get our job done and protect all women throughout the United States of America.

I yield the floor.


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