This letter features reporting from "In Small Alaska City, Native Women Say Police Ignored Rapes" by Victoria Mckenzie and Wong Maye-E, a Pulitzer Center reporting project
Dear U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib,
Issues revolving around Native American women and their increased risks of sexual and domestic violence have come to the attention of many in recent years, yet there is little done to combat those issues. In a Pulitzer Center-supported news story by Victoria Mckenzie and Wong Maye-E titled “In Small Alaska City, Native Women Say Police Ignored Rapes,” the authors address the continuous issues of the Nome, Alaska police department, which has “failed to investigate [targeted] sexual assaults [of Native Americans].” Pleas are echoed throughout the city, with woman after woman coming out with their own vulnerable experiences of being disregarded after brutal instances of rape or domestic abuse. Yet these years of demands from Native voices have been ignored. And while this issue may seem distant, it is, in fact, the opposite.
In Michigan, Indigenous tribes have experienced similar neglect. It is a fact that the relationship with the police and Native American victims is tense. It is a fact that Native Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. It is a fact that the rates of sexual violence for Native women in Michigan are markedly higher. And it is a fact that when a non-Native person commits an act of sexual violence on Native land, it is too common that the perpetrator is able to walk away without accountability. With such truths, Michigan Native victims often choose not to even call the police, as they know nothing will be done for them.
In order to take action against this discrimination and failure to uphold justice, it is necessary to work with the people being directly harmed and work through the law. This letter stands with the Michigan advocacy group Uniting Three Fires Against Violence. The coalition and I stand for supporting Native American survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through promoting social change and essential, culturally appropriate services through the state of Michigan. This coalition itself is a resource to take action and work with. However, on the legal side, it has been beyond necessary to discuss and amend the VAWA Title IX. Under this Act, domestic violence crimes against Native Americans by non-Natives are supposed to be taken under tribal jurisdiction, but only if the court can prove that the perpetrator had a connection to the tribe. With this, the VAWA Title IX has proven itself unable to fulfill justice for Native people, as proving such a connection is difficult and if there is no connection, the crime is taken under Federal jurisdiction.
As previously mentioned, the relationship with criminal justice and Native people is complicated which often leads to an outcome of unaccountability for the perpetrator. The VAWA Title IX must be amended for the sake of the safety of Native people, especially women. It must give jurisdiction to tribal courts for any acts of sexual violence committed within tribal boundaries, regardless of a non-Native perpetrator’s connection to the Native victim. This issue is a crisis and must be solved. Thank you, and I hope you are able to take my proposal into serious consideration.
Tameem Zaidat is a high school senior who, beyond writing, loves sharing new experiences with friends and family. He is thankful for the opportunity that he has in writing to advocate for change in the issues that he sees around him.