New Report on Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota

“I thought prostitution was normal living.”

Last week the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education, an incredible team of Native American women researchers and activists, released a report on prostitution and trafficking of Native American women in Minnesota.

Garden of Truth is the first study detailing the personal experiences of Native women who have been prostituted and trafficked in Minnesota. The research team interviewed 105 women to assess the life circumstances that led them to prostitution.  The study found about half of the women met a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking which involves third-party control over the prostituting person by pimps or traffickers.


Ending Sexual Violence Against Indigenous Women in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo issued a statement during her visit to the U.S. scrutinizing the U.S. for its continued failure to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence crimes against Native American and Alaska Native women and girls.

Consistent with Amnesty International’s findings in 2007’s “Maze of Injustice” report documenting the epidemic of sexual violence in Indian Country, Manjoo met with tribal leaders and advocates, who confirmed Amnesty’s own findings – including Department of Justice statistics citing that 86% of perpetrators of sexual violence against Native women and girls are in fact, non-Native men.

This horrific statistic is an all too familiar, frightening daily reality for Native women – particularly as tribal courts still have no jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native offenders, often leaving survivors of sexual violence without access to justice or redress for crimes committed against them.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day all this week, it is all too clear that the U.S. still has a long way to go in addressing this epidemic of sexual violence against Indigenous women here in the U.S.


This is it – act NOW to pass the Tribal Law and Order Act

Two Native American women were gang-raped by three non-Native men in Oklahoma. Because they were forced to wear blindfolds, however, support workers were concerned that the women would be unable to say whether the rapes took place on federal, state or tribal land. Because of jurisdictional complexities and the uncertainty of the locations of these crimes, the women may never see justice served.

It is time to help make a difference in the lives of Native American and Alaska Native women and put an end to the sexual violence that Native women face at a rate that is 2.5 times greater than that of women in the U.S. in general. Passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act will help to do just that.

The Tribal Law and Order Act, attached as an amendment to H.R. 725, is now up for a full floor vote in the House. WHEN it passes, the legislation will go straight to the President to be signed into law.

YOU can make a difference!

TAKE ACTION now and send a letter of support urging your Representative to vote for H.R. 725 with Tribal Law and Order provisions attached, when the bill hits the House floor this week!

Victory! Tribal Law and Order Act Passes in the US Senate!

HUGE VICTORY for human rights happened this past Wednesday when the Senate passed H.R. 725, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendment Act of 2010, which included the majority of the provisions in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009!

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 is a historic, bi-partisan effort to tackle the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against Indigenous women, and in particular, sexual assault and violence against Native American and Alaska Native women, to go unpunished and unabated.

Championed by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in the Senate and Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) in the House, the Tribal Law and Order Act represents an important step forward in combating violence against Native American women.  Violence that is an ongoing violation of Native American and Alaska Native women’s most fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Amnesty International detailed this violence in our 2007 report entitled Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA.  The report revealed shocking statistics of violence such as the fact that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general.  The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 is in direct response to concerns raised by tribal leaders, tribal organizations, Native American and Alaska Native women and the AIUSA report, which helped bring widespread attention to the high rates of crimes on tribal lands and the obstacles that victims face in securing justice.

The Act will help abate the violence in Indigenous communities by clarifying the responsibilities of, and increasing coordination and communication among, federal, state, and tribal governments with respect to crimes committed in tribal communities.  The bill also provides assistance to tribal governments by arming them with the necessary authority, resources, and information to address crimes committed on tribal land.  In addition, it helps shed light on the elevated levels of violence in Indian Country by increasing the standardized collection and distribution of criminal data among all levels of government responsible for responding to and investigating crimes in tribal communities, including the data necessary to establish whether or not crimes are being prosecuted.


UN sends a strong message to U.S. about the state of its indigenous people

The United Nation’s first report on The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, released on January 14, 2010, contains figures and an assessment that are both shocking and illuminating, even to those who are familiar with indigenous rights issues. The report evaluates the state of indigenous populations in specific countries and situations, in both the developed and developing world.

The report states that,

“Indigenous peoples suffer from the consequences of historic injustice, including colonization, dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, oppression and discrimination, as well as lack of control over their own ways of life. Their right to development has been largely denied by colonial and modern States in the pursuit of economic growth”

The United States is by no means exempt from the report’s critique. Despite increased state and federal acknowledgment of the challenges that Native Americans and Alaska Natives face in the U.S., the U.S. has made only incremental change and continues to generate appalling statistics and significant disparities. A recent study that applied the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index (HDI) – which measures health, education and standard of living — to indigenous populations in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand found that while the U.S. ranked seventh overall (globally), U.S. American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked thirtieth.

The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples notes that nearly a quarter of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live below the poverty line in the U.S., compared to about 12.5 percent of the total population, and pinpoints the direct relationship that the educational deficit has upon economic opportunities and employment rates.


Congress Moves on the 2009 Tribal Law and Order Act

On Thursday, December 10th, the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing to discuss the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009, for which AIUSA was invited to submit written testimony. The bill, a close approximation of the early Senate draft of the bill, would make crucial and desperately needed reforms in tribal justice systems, helping to address the epidemic of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women and girls.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has worked to document the disconcerting realities of law enforcement in Indian Country, especially as they impact the capacity and ability to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women and girls. Our research found that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general. In recent months, as both the House and Senate have made headway in pushing their respective bills through committee, it seems that Congressional leaders are finally realizing the true urgency of reforming tribal law enforcement.

Both bills would make crucial steps in ensuring justice in Indian Country. These bills mandate and create structures for improving communication, transparency, and data sharing between tribal, state, and Federal agencies, increase tribal prosecutorial authorities, expand and emphasize the importance of data collection and analysis, and call for the US Attorney General’s Office to document cases it refuses to prosecute. The bills also require training for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to domestic and sexual violent crimes and require Indian Health Services to improve services for victims of sexual assault.


Update: Leonard Peltier Denied Parole

To our deep disappointment, Leonard Peltier was denied parole on Friday, nearly a month after his July 28 parole hearing. In addition to our online action, Amnesty International had sent an open letter to the parole board in early July urging that Peltier be granted parole, and Amnesty continues to call for his immediate release on parole. You can read more about Leonard’s case in this blog post, and in the full AI press relase. The US Department of Justice also issued a lengthy press release on Friday.

Parole Hearing for Leonard Peltier

Update: As we await the results of Leonard Peltier’s parole hearing, it is still possible to take action on his behalf. The online action has a mailing address, fax number, and sample letter. You can print out the letter from the online action page, and then mail or fax it in. Help demand parole for Leonard Peltier!

Anishinabe-Lakota Native American Leonard Peltier, a federal prisoner serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in 1975, is scheduled for a parole hearing before the US Parole Commission on 28 July 2009 (Federal prisoners serving life sentences in the USA can apply for parole). There are serious questions about the evidence on which Peltier was convicted and concerns remain over the fairness of the legal proceedings which led to Leonard Peltier’s extradition from Canada and subsequent trial. Amnesty International, having campaigned on Leonard Peltier’s behalf for many years, believes that he should be granted parole. The deadline for public comment on his case is July 14th.

Leonard Peltier, a leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an organization which seeks to promote and uphold Native American Indian rights, was convicted in 1977 of shooting dead FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier does not deny that he was present during the incident. However, he does deny killing the agents by firing on them at close range, as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.

The only alleged eyewitness to the shootings was Myrtle Poor Bear, a Lakota Native woman who lived at Pine Ridge. On the basis of her statements that she had seen Leonard Peltier kill Williams and Coler, Peltier was extradited from Canada, where he fled following the shootings. However, Myrtle Poor Bear retracted her testimony in 1977. In a public statement issued by Myrtle Poor Bear in 2000, she said that her original testimony was a result of months of threats and harassment from FBI agents.

The US Parole Commission has held a number of parole hearings on Peltier’s case. However, it has always denied parole on the grounds that Peltier did not accept criminal responsibility for the murders of the two FBI agents. This is despite the fact that, after one such hearing, the Commission acknowledged that, “the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that you personally participated in the executions of two FBI agents.”

Don’t forget: deadline for public comment on his case is July 14th (tomorrow). Take action now to demand parole for Leonard Peltier!

One in Three

Native American and Alaska Native women face a 1 in 3 chance of being raped in their lifetime. The numbers are shocking. In our report, Maze of Injustice, Amnesty uncovered the staggering statistic that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general. This has to change!

Non-Native men who rape Native American and Alaska Native women can often do so with impunity, because of a lack of tribal authority to prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes of sexual violence on tribal lands. Most perpetrators are never punished because of a complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that is so confusing that officials are often not clear on who is responsible for responding.

Thankfully, the Senate is considering re-introducing the Tribal Law and Order Act, a bill that would help fix this broken system of justice.

In honor of International Women’s Day, which was this past Sunday, AIUSA is holding a call-in week for people to let their senators know that they want them to support initiatives that will help stop violence against women and to urge them to cosponsor the Tribal Law and Order Act after it has been re-introduced. Please try to call today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday), but if you can’t, then please call early next week.