February 12, 2018

Udall Holds Listening Session on Combatting Violence Against Native Women

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, cohosted a listening session on combatting violence against Native women. In the listening session, Udall sought input from Tribes on implementing and improving the landmark legislation that amended the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to restore Tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence crimes on Tribal lands.

"Thank you for your work and advocacy on these important issues. Congress needs to hear directly from you – the Tribal leaders and stakeholders who are doing the daily work at the grassroots level to combat violence against Native women," Udall said in his opening remarks. "We must make this a front-and-center issue, and your contributions here today help strengthen the call to do just that."

In response to previous feedback from Tribes, Udall recently introduced the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA) to build on the Tribal jurisdiction provisions in VAWA by extending protections to children and law enforcement personnel involved in domestic violence incidents on Tribal lands. The bill also will enhance federal coordination of victim resources for Tribal communities. Udall also was a leader in the 2013 effort to amend VAWA and restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on reservations.

Udall's remarks as prepared are available below.

Welcome to everyone here. Thank you for joining us today.

Chairman Hoeven and I are hosting this listening session because it is important that the Senate record reflect your voices, your experiences, and your priorities.

Unfortunately, he could not be here this afternoon. But, I am pleased to work with him on this important issue – as the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Indian Affairs Committee.

Our work in the Committee and my work with other strong advocates for Native Women’s issues, like Senator Murkowski, shows that these are truly bipartisan priorities. We recognize that Indian Country is facing an alarming epidemic of violence against Native women, and we know that Congress must do more to support Tribes as they work to protect Native communities from violence.

Many of you were here when these issues were center stage in the Senate in 2013. It was a battle to amend VAWA and restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on reservations.

Thanks to Indian Country’s tireless advocacy – we did it. It was a historic legislative victory.

Indian Country didn’t rest on the laurels of that victory, though. Over the last five years, Tribes across the country have worked to translate that landmark legislation into real-world outcomes. I hope that some of you will speak to that work in your comments today.

It is important for Congress to hear from folks on the ground implementing the laws we pass. Feedback is key to refining and improving the legislative process.

In fact, feedback from the five original VAWA Pilot Tribes served as the basis for the bill I introduced in December – S. 2233, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act. This bill addresses three critical but unanticipated gaps in the 2013 special jurisdiction restoration: attempted domestic violence, family violence committed against Native children, and crimes against Tribal law enforcement tasked with arresting and prosecuting violent offenders under the 2013 restoration.

I hope some of you will provide more insight into the need for Congress address these gaps. We must build on the progress gained in 2013 – and your input will help us push this goal forward.

Chairman Hoeven’s SURVIVE Act is another measure that is key to addressing violence against women in Indian Country. I’m proud to co-sponsor this bill which will increase resources and assistance to Tribal victims of violence by creating a 5 percent Tribal set-aside in the Crime Victims Fund. S. 1870 is important because it reflects feedback from Tribes and Native victim services stakeholders, who have long decried the ineffective state pass-through structure of the Crime Victims Fund.

And, it will ensure that Native communities can finally access funding to support locally-designed, culturally-tailored victim service initiatives.

Part of the problem is that the high incidence of violence toward Native women and children isn’t well documented. Crimes go unreported, investigations are left un-started, and good data isn’t kept. Despite the warnings raised by Indian Country, the general public just doesn’t understand the extent of the violence being committed against Native women.

To draw attention to this issue over the last few years, I’ve worked with members of this committee to declare a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. And, just today, we introduced a resolution to continue this vital awareness tool into 2018.

Thank you for again for being here today. And, thank you for your work and advocacy on these important issues. Congress needs to hear directly from you – the Tribal leaders and stakeholders who are doing the daily work at the grassroots level to combat violence against Native women.

We must make this a front-and-center issue. And your contributions here today help strengthen the call to do just that.