Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) allegedly verbally assaulted Melissa Merrick, Spirit Lake Victim Assistance Director, Native Victim’s Assistance Program Director and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) advocate, at a state meeting on March 26 as Merrick was voicing concerns about issues affecting Indian country to include tribal provisions in VAWA.

North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer Allegedly Verbally Attacks Abused Native Women's Advocate

Vincent Schilling
April 01, 2013


At a recent North Dakota state meeting, Spirit Lake Victim Assistance Director, Native Victim’s Assistance Program Director and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) advocate Melissa Merrick alleges that North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer verbally attacked her and another Native woman. After voicing concerns about issues affecting Indian country to include tribal provisions in VAWA, Merrick says Cramer went on a volatile verbal tirade aimed at her and tribal officials for approximately 20 minutes.

According to Merrick, the alleged statements made by Cramer included such remarks as ‘tribal governments were dysfunctional, a non-Native man could not get a fair trial on a reservation, the supreme court would hopefully overturn unconstitutional tribal provisions in the VAWA and that Cramer wanted to, “Ring the Tribal Council’s neck and slam them against the wall.”

The meeting, held on Tuesday March 26, 2013 was attended by two of North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s staff and North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer. The state officials were brought in to listen to concerns of several Directors of programs throughout North Dakota.

According to Merrick, though Senator Heitkamp’s staff was gracious, when North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer – who had spoken publicly against the constitutionality of the tribal provisions in VAWA, began to hear the concerns of Merrick he began to react.

“I thanked him for his support and proceeded with my concerns including how the Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program (TSASP) was taken out of the [Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation grant] that went out to tribes,” she said.

“After I spoke, Cramer began what turned out to be a roughly 20 minute verbal attack directed at me and all Native people. Cramer stated that he did vote yes on the Violence Against Women Act, but did not agree with the tribal provisions and that he was sure they would be overturned in the Supreme Court,” said Merrick in a statement.

After Merrick stated she herself was a survivor, Merrick alleges the Congressman said ‘tribal governments are dysfunctional. Tribal courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non-Native man get a fair trial on the reservations?”

According to Merrick, as the tension mounted in the room she began to grow uncomfortable and the other Native woman in the room came to tears. After Merrick expressed that there were positive changes in Indian country and that things are not going to happen overnight and people were working hard, Cramer again responded with volatility.

“Cramer stated that he wanted to ‘ring the tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall,” alleges Merrick. “This statement was made in front of a room full of people who are working to end violence. Again, he went on and on about how tribal governments are dysfunctional, and how unconstitutional the tribal provisions in VAWA are.

“The other directors began to get up and walk out of the room. He then said, ‘As a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now.’ I asked, “Why? What are you going to do?” says Merrick.

At the conclusion of the meeting Merrick said she and the other woman left visibly upset, and that Cramer had hugged the other woman without her permission and said, “I Love You.”

After the series of events that transpired at the meeting, Merrick responded in a letter in direct response to the actions of Congressman Cramer.

In an excerpt of the letter, Merrick stated the following:

Dear Congressman Cramer: It has been three days since we met, and I am still stunned and outraged by what we experienced. I have always believed that the job of an elected official is to listen to the concerns of constituents, treat them with basic respect, and help try to solve problems. Instead, we were treated rudely and disrespectfully, like an arrogant bully who was disgusted with the people he had to interact with and who had no understanding or interest in protecting women from violence.

You have attempted to backtrack and have gone as far as publicly questioning the accuracy of my statements. Let me state for the record, I stand by every word of it.

The disdain you expressed for our tribal leaders and your threats toward them left one woman in tears and revealed how little you care about the people you have been elected to serve, particularly female victims of violent acts.

Every day, we work to heal women and children who suffer from violence. I am proud of the work that I and my colleagues do. In your position as our Congressman, you are in a position to help tribal and non-tribal communities in North Dakota. My hope and prayer is that you will humble yourself in this leadership position rather than use your authority to divide our community.

In response to the allegations by Merrick, Congressman Cramer issued a statement:

I recently met with members of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services regarding the recent Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, and my passion concerning some of the problems I fear may exist with this legislation. Critics of this Act have expressed due process concerns in regard to some of its provisions. I therefore voted in favor of an amendment designed to address these problems. Unfortunately, my efforts were not supported by my Congressional colleagues. Because VAWA protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by streamlining grants, improving investigation, prosecution and victim services, as well as enhancing penalties against offenders, I voted in favor of this legislation.

I am quite open about my passion regarding helping those within our society that are exposed to violence. It is my understanding that certain statements I recently made regarding my frustrations with VAWA were misunderstood. This may have been the result of my tone and rhetoric, better suited for active debate in Congress rather than in addressing the protectors of our most vulnerable citizens. I apologize, and welcome future discussion to address my meaning, and to further our common cause.

I am encouraged by the considerable energy available to fix the serious, societal problem of violence (against all victims). It is my hope that improving lives is always our upmost focus.


Indian Country Today Media Network has attempted to obtain a direct response from the Congressman but has yet to receive a response to the inquiry.



Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I don't know he, Cramer, had to single out non-tribal men not getting a fair trial on reservations, when our tribal member's don't get fair hearings.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on

Who would have guessed that Cramer was a Republican?

When it comes to Native affairs, most politicians must be taken lightly, but when it comes to open insults and violence, only the Republicans seem to have the edge.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Well good for this Congressman for speaking the truth on the atomsphere of Tribal Government's structure and behavior. Having lived in North Dakota and attended a prominent tribal college in the state. I recall a conversation with an Indian women who taught at this college and mentioned of how the former Senator Dorgan commented on the behavior, fraud, and mismanagement of tribal leaders in his state with federal money. Yet, he worked to see that the tribes were taken cared because of the trust responsibilty. The tribes of the west are notorious for mismanagement and theft of federal money for the tribes. This man was speaking the truth. Why doesn't this paper ask tribal members from this state on past and current behavior that's gone on by tribal governments that led this Congressman to make such a statement? He should not be bullied by ICT or the current PC mindset that has poisoned our collective community on the corrupt behavior and practices of current tribal governments that led this man to make this remark. Merrick comments on his action dividing our community. Our community is already divided. He speaks for other tribal members who know this problem exists but are afraid to speak out and fear retribution from tribal authorities. Wake up from Denial.

north dakota's picture
north dakota
Submitted by north dakota on

There are NO legal protections nor law enforcement if an Indian women is beaten or attacked by her non-Indian spouse, dating violence, or violation of protective orders in "Indian Country". How many small children have already witnessed this violence in their own homes and no law enforcement could - or would - to help them? Tribe's have had limited jurisdiction within their own reservations: this is a criminal enforcement process to protect women and their vulnerable children in physically violent situations.
According to Ms. Merrick, the ND Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer - who has a non-Indian spouse - went on a 20-minute tirade in the meeting on how he personally felt threatened by the new federal law designed to provide legal protections to tribal women in an abusive relationship.
How - or why - this federal law would directly apply to Congressman Cramer - was never clarified.
There were other witnesses present during Cramer's tirade, including Senator Heitkamp's staff and other unnamed ND tribal domestic violence directors. None of these witnesses have come forth to publicly counter Merrick's account.
So, will the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Republican leadership publicly criticize and chastise ND Congressman Cramer for his hostile and abusive language, tone, and behavior last week - as they did just last week to Senator Don Young, Alaska, for calling immigrant workers "wetbacks"? This week, after the Three Affiliated Tribes' council released a statement condemning the ND congressman's behavior, Cramer was quoted as saying, “At some point, we really do have to be about the business of solving problems and not reiterating the same incident over and over again.”
The ND tribal governments should completely bypass Congressman Cramer - and contact the national Republican Party leaders to demand public reprimands be issued to the ND Republican Congressman and respect be accorded to tribal members.
According to the RNC's recently published campaign "autopsy" of their staggering loss in the last presidential election, their national strategy is to now recruit minority voters - including Native Americans - to their party. Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, writes that the Republican party sees the handwriting on the wall: minorities in this country will be the majority voters in a few years.
Among other things in the 100-page "Great Open Party" document, Republicans - like Cramer - are advised to be more inclusive now and "welcome in" potential minority voters to their party. The national Republican strategy also includes developing "a program designed to educate Republicans on the importance of developing and tailoring a message that is non-inflammatory and inclusive to all."
Guess North Dakota Republican Congressman Cramer wasn't in the room when his party's national strategy was discussed. All the more reason for ND tribal governments to deal directly with the national Republican party leaders instead of Cramer.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I can understand his anger, but the way he responded to these women is unethical. Someone should ask his wife if he might not be a batterer.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

It's quite obvious how Cramer feels openly about Native people in general. Yes, the only way to correct to make anyone accountable even in Indian Country is through the legislative process. Then, the guilty will be held accountable against VAWA. Yes, there is some problems with tribal governments, however, there is problems and politics in all forms of government whether it be local, state or federal. Since this VAWA is starting at the very basic foundation of getting people to actually listen to their voices for once is a start! Everyone must start at the beginning and if it is uncomfortable for some people to hear then, don't listen. Native women need to be heard and now is the time for the government to listen. I am very proud to be an educated Native woman in today's society. After all, this is to protect our future children from the horrors that they may endure.

Bill Two Worlds's picture
Bill Two Worlds
Submitted by Bill Two Worlds on

Having lived in both worlds, both better get it figured out as nothing but more negativity will only fester and once again it will all go away with nothing more than a couple of people getting their 15 minutes of fame. Move on, there are kids out there that need help!

Nadine Vaughan Williams's picture
Nadine Vaughan ...
Submitted by Nadine Vaughan ... on

I was glad to see that Chairman Tex Hall and Tribal members were likewise concerned about Representative Cramer's remarks. I am particularly appreciative of the specific reference to Melissa Merrick, Director of the Spirit Lake Nation's Victim Assistance Program "...who bore the brunt of Cramer's negative comment."

Cramer went far beyond a rant. He showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an abuser of women in the way he attacked Ms Merrick. He expressed no realization that he fits that profile in his words, attitudes, and choice to go after a woman who had already been victimized. That is what abusers do!

Moreover, his only concern, that as a white male (of privilege--eg, a non-Native man), he "could not get a fair trial on a reservation " should lead everyone in his state to wonder why he even has the honor of serving. He doesn't deserve such an honor and should be removed.


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