Deborah Parker, Vice Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Tulalip Tribes, in a video made for ICTMN by Rock Paper Jet

Exclusive Video: VAWA, a Historic Native Victory

Gyasi Ross

Hey Native people…just in case you didn’t realize it, we made history very recently!  HUGE history—like, history that students will be talking about in Native American Studies classes and Indian Law (AND Civil Procedures) classes for quite some time.  History that will change the way non-Natives interact with Native people on our homelands. 

And, of course, like most good things in our communities it started with an Indian woman.

But let’s ignore that for a second.  Let’s talk about what happened—why, exactly, was Native peoples' victory in the recent reauthorization to the Violence Against Women Act so historical and so powerful? 

Well, in order to do that, we have to talk about what did not happen.  Contrary to some belief, the Violence Against Women Act will not instantly and magically end all violence against Native women.  In fact, the implementation of this complex piece of legislation will take at least a year, and in many cases (most?), it will take quite a bit longer.  For our Alaska Native sisters, they still have no protections under the current Violence Against Women Act—that’s a travesty.  No, the Native provisions of the Violence Against Women Act are not a magic bullet.  No, we have to work to improve our communities a little bit at a time—work on stopping non-Native violence against Native women as well as Native violence against Native women. 

There’s still work to do.

Additionally, there will inevitably be constitutional challenges.  Unfortunately, sex offenders and woman beaters—already not known for their character— will undoubtedly do anything and everything to get out of facing the music.  Instead of facing the punishment that they probably should face, the Violence Against Women Act assures that they’ll get due process on top of due process on top of due process, white-man-style.  Rest assured, if a Native person is in federal court they don’t get nearly the level of protection that non-Natives will get in tribal courts, but hey, that’s the cost of doing business.

It’s not perfect.  Far from.

And if that’s the cost of improving protections for our communities, so be it.  We have to simply remain diligent to make sure that it continues to evolve and better, especially in regards to protections for our Alaska Native sisters.  If it sounds like the Violence Against Women Act was packed with concessions and compromises, well, it was.  That’s just the way politics are these days…but here’s the thing: those compromises do not change the fact that we made history.  We changed a fundamental injustice against Native people. 

See, since 1978, tribal law enforcement has had zero authority to cite any non-Native for even littering, much less domestic violence.  As a result of that fateful and wrongfully decided case Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, which occurred right down the street from my house, there have been so many instances of non-Natives literally getting away with murder and Tribes have been powerless to do anything. 

That is not the case anymore—Tribal nations can now protect their own people. 

The Native provisions to the Violence Against Women Act changed 35 years of gross injustices toward Native people with one signature, thanks to Deborah Parker.  But it wasn’t just her, of course; we also have to express thanks to the Tulalip Board of Directors that generously allowed Deborah to go advocate in Washington DC time after time, and committed tons of resources to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.  We also cannot stop the thanks there—thanks to the many other Tribal Councils, across the Nation, that devoted countless dollars and resources to changing this travesty.  Everybody chipped in—all of Indian Country

Thanks to all of you as well. 

Sure, President Obama’s name is on the Violence Against Women Act.  Still, we’ve seen that these politicians in DC can’t pass any bills to actually help people these days.  Heck, the President and Congress can’t even pass gas right now, left to their own devices—the Violence Against Women Act had to have some EXTRA mojo in order to go through.  That’s right, Indian Country pushed this bill through, with the help of a few key legislators from both parties.  Prayers pushed the Violence Against Women Act through.  The spirits of all the Native women killed by domestic violence pushed the Violence Against Women Act through.  Every Native person who took the time to call his or her Senator or Representative powered the Violence Against Women Act through.  And most importantly, a Native woman, with the support of her Board of Directors, with the support of many other Tribal Councils, who had the support of Indian people around the Nation, pushed the Violence Against Women Act through.

Indian Country powered the Violence Against Women Act through. 

This victory was an example of what we can do if we truly worked together.  Seriously—this is what happens when we put aside our petty differences, our “that’s not our tribe, that’s their tribe” snootiness, and instead show just a little unity. 

Can we can do that again please?  This is Idle No More typified—Native Pride on display.  This was Native strength.

And it started with a Native woman…

Please enjoy this video, done exclusively for ICTMN, of the Tulalip Board of Directors saying thank you to Indian Country and to Vice-Chairwoman Deborah Parker for all the work on the Violence Against Women Act.  The Tulalip Board of Directors was gracious enough to invite Rock Paper Jet Productions, LLC to the signing of the VAWA to document the enormity of the moment—this video attempts to share that moment with you. 

Thank you Deborah and Indian Country. 


Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi




You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Tonkin's picture
Submitted by Tonkin on
Obama will use this Law to Imprison every Man who was ever associated with any Woman in any way. Did anyone really sit down and read this Law. Warm Fuzzy Feelings Abound in Washington District of Corruption. laws are passed and THEY feel Good about Removing OUR Freedom from US. Is the Sky blue in THEIR world?

cpenoi's picture
Submitted by cpenoi on
Thanks for giving us the opportunity to meet Deborah Parker and appreciate what a fine leader she is.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
This IS a historic event and one that should make us all proud. The statistics of spouse abuse in my state are inflated because of alcohol abuse, employment and all the various factors that provide the impetus for spouse abuse. Too often are Native people blamed for the statistics in their own state. Our heavy Mexican-American population (and their idea of "macho") also adds to it, but do Whites in my state ever acknowledge their input? No! It's always the minorities who abuse their wives and children. It's always the dark-skinned Americans who have no family values.