Genevieve Le May
American Indian Studies GIDP
4W Summit Initiative Women, Gender and Wellbeing
April 10-14, 2019
The Oliphant vs Suquamish Supreme Court Case
Violence Against Native American Women: The Department of Justice and the "Oliphant Fix" explores the pervasive violence experienced by Native American women from a feminist perspective. To do so, the presentation begins by providing statistical analysis of the violence against Native women and the expectations of being raped. Following this, I demonstrate the ways that US legislation, policies, and laws perpetuates the violence against Native women and the erosion of tribal sovereignty. Focusing specifically on The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, including the “Oliphant Fix” (Oliphant vs Suquamish Supreme Court Case) and the federal government’s failure to fully protect Native women from non-Native predators and to restore tribal sovereignty. Building upon this, I will examine 2017 Native testimonies from a significant primary source titled, The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women: 2017 Tribal Consultation Report, that bears witness to the need to enhance safety for Native women and strengthen federal responses to such crimes. In conclusion, I will discuss the Native community organizations who are bringing awareness to this crisis and offering support, resources and safe havens for Native women and their children.
Abstract for Lay Audience
According to the Department of Justice, violence against Native women -- more than any other ethnic group -- is a crisis in the United States. One Justice Department report concluded that over one in three American Indian and Alaskan Native women will be raped during their lives and six in ten will be physically assaulted. Statistics also reveal that 86% of the perpetrators are non-Native. Further, on some reservations the murder rate is ten times the national average (Indian Law.org 2015; Tribal Consultation/ OVW/ Department of Justice 2014; Amnesty International, 2008). Many scholars estimate these statistics may be higher because many Native women do not report their crimes, and, many expect violence to be a part of their daily lives.
Though VAWA’s Reauthorization Act of 2013 was a milestone for Native women’s fight against violence it is important to understand legislature that still prohibits Native Nations true sovereignty. Although, the 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States have inherent sovereign authority which is tribes’ right to govern themselves, tribes’ sovereign rights are often limited or eroded by federal and state laws and policies, which in turn limits their ability to protect Native women from violence and to provide them with adequate resources (IndianLaw.org, 2010). Many Native women feel they are unprotected and invisible to the legal system, because they are Native and because they are women.
To erode tribal authority, the Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978) that Indian nations do not have authority to prosecute crimes by non-Natives. This critical point and shift in criminal jurisdiction by the Supreme Court radically changed tribal governments’ abilities to prosecute non-Natives in violence against Native women. It again gave the public the perception that murdering, kidnapping and assaulting Native women had few consequences (Deer, 2015). This legislative history makes it almost impossible for justice to occur and has caused a modern day, tangled jurisdictional web and a legal relationship distinct from any other group in the United States (Hart and Lowther, 2008).This has left Native women vulnerable to predators as 86% of their perpetrators are non-native and 60% of the cases are never prosecuted by the federal government.