Government Awards Grants To Native American Victims of Violence

Lady Pow Wow dancer at an event in Mesa, Arizona (Shutterstock.com). The United States government will award more than $5.7 million in grants to support Native American victims of crime in the Midwest and Western United States.

The awards will be given t0 tribes in Washington state, Alaska, California, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Justice Department has awarded close to $10 million in grants thus far, and the Office for Victims of Crime could provide grants totaling $100 million. “American Indian and Alaska Native communities face extensive public safety challenges...[the DOJ is] demonstrating their determination to meet the needs of victims in their communities,” Matt M. Dummermuth, the DOJ principal deputy assistant attorney general, said in a statement. “These grants, part of historic levels of funding awarded by the Department of Justice to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, will provide significant resources to bring critical services to those who suffer the effects of crime and violence.”

One of the tribes spotlighted was the Kalispel Indian Community, which lives on 252 acres in eastern Washington. The 470-member tribe was awarded nearly $700,000 as part of an effort to “serve human trafficking victims.” Crime on lands held by Native American tribes is a serious matter. According to the National Institute of Justice, 83 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults “have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime.” That amounts to 3 million people who have been subjected to some sort of violence, including physical violence, stalking, and sexual violence. Women have been particularly victimized, with higher rates of sexual violence and stalking.

It's clear why women, in particular, would need services that would help victims of aggressive crimes. “More than two in five American Indian and Alaska Native female victims reported being physically injured, and almost half reported needing services,” the NIJ found. “The services most commonly needed were medical care and legal services. Unfortunately, more than a third (38 percent) were unable to receive necessary services.”

Native Americans living on tribal lands are also victims of murder at a higher rate than other US populations. “In some US counties composed primarily of Native American lands, murder rates of Native American women are up to 10 times higher than the national average for all races,” a 2018 report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) found. The CPI looked at one region along the Montana-North Dakota border, and found that a spike in crimes in the region corresponded directly to an increase in transient workers in the booming oil fields in the region. “As far as racially motivated crimes, they feel even more like they can help themselves,” a Native American activist told CPI about workers committing crimes on Native Americans.

But it would be wrong to think that Native American tribes are filled with criminals. Most crimes are committed by people who live outside of tribal lands, and more than 90 percent of victims were unable to prosecute their non-Native American perpetrators due to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling, Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe — which found that tribes did not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators. That changed under President Barack Obama. Under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, the Department of Justice could prosecute cases referred to them by Native American tribes. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 gave reservations the ability to prosecute crimes committed by people who knew their victims — but not instances where strangers victimized people.

That, however, hasn't meant that victims are finding justice. In 2017, the federal government didn't prosecute more than a third of cases that were referred to them by Native American governments, a report found. As the High Country News reported at the time, more than a quarter of unprosecuted cases were allegations of sexual assault against children and adults.

“Although difficulties in prosecuting physical assault, sexual assault, and child molestation cases are not unique to Indian country,” the report read, “structural barriers in Indian country may compound the challenges.” The Justice Department attributes many of those barriers to the complex organization of law enforcement in Indian Country, which stems largely from a tangled web of jurisdictions. Major crimes like murder or child abuse are managed by federal agencies, and victims and witnesses often have to travel long distances to testify in federal court. Federal investigators and prosecutors are also rarely based on reservations, making it difficult for them to foster meaningful relationships with communities.

“American Indian and Alaska Native crime victims continue to face challenges in accessing vital services and resources needed to help survivors address their trauma and navigate a complex system,” Darlene Hutchinson, director of the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime. “The Justice Department has made it a priority to partner with tribes to help victims and their families rebuild their lives in the aftermath of violence.” Overall, the report cited insufficient evidence as the top reason that cases were declined.


About the Author

Jeremy Binckes is an experienced writer and editor who has reported on news, politics, culture, and sports. He was most recently a news editor at Salon, and he has written articles for a number of publications.