The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization passed the U.S. House on February 28 by a vote of 286 to 138. In a major victory for Indian country, it mirrored the already passed U.S. Senate provisions that allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who commit violence against women and families on Indian lands.
To tribal and Native American advocates who have spent many long days and nights working through bleeding heels, seasonal sicknesses, and missed holidays with loved ones, the vote represented the end of a journey that sometimes seemed impossible.
“I’m so excited—this is overwhelming,” cried Deborah Parker, vice-chair of the Tulalip Tribes, who was out of breath and in tears immediately after the House passage.
Parker’s daze was understandable. Still catching her breath, she noted that some legal experts have said that there hasn’t been major tribal legislation that grants inherent tribal authority since the historic days of treaty times. “We’ve had other successes,” she said, “but this will have a substantial impact on our sovereign ability to govern.”
Through two Congresses, Parker experienced the first-hand battle of getting an important piece of tribal legislation passed in today’s conflict-driven capital. She regularly flew the red-eye from her home in Washington state to Washington, D.C. trying to get politicians to understand the plight that all too many Indian women and families experience. Some of the politicos wouldn’t budge in their anti-tribal positions, some wouldn’t take meetings, and others chose to ride in the backseat, not making much of an effort to secure passage.