I recently attended an excellent online (via ZOOM) presentation from the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) titled “advocacy training on promoting legislation to safeguard the health and safety of our Native American siblings” with Lacina Tangnaqudo Onco and Christine Ashley.
Since 1976 FCNL Native American advocacy program has worked to restore and improve U.S. relations with tribes so that the country honors the promises made in hundreds of treaties. Legislation FCNL has worked on includes:
- Indian Health Care Improvement Act
- The Indian Child Welfare Act
- Tribal Law and Order Act
- The Violence Against Women Act
Lobbying means creating a relationship with your Congressperson or Senator. That can involve sending them letters, calling their office, visiting their offices in the district or in Washington, DC. You can also write a letter to the editor that mentions the representative’s name for a more public form of communication. There is a tool on this web page that will help you write a letter to the editor and get it sent to the newspapers you want. https://www.fcnl.org/updates/publish-letters-to-the-editor-18
In-person lobbying is considered the most effect strategy to influence a legislator. The following steps can help make your visit successful.
It is important to focus on a single issue. This helps you focus on your message, and what specifically you are asking the legislator to do (the “ask”). Once you have chosen your issue, do as much research about that topic as possible. You don’t have to be an expert. Good sources of information are:
- National Congress of American Indians http://www.ncai.org/
- FCNL Native American issues https://www.fcnl.org/about/policy/issues/native-americans
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center http://www.niwrc.org/resource-topic/missing-and-murdered-native-women
- Seeding Sovereignty – https://seedingsovereignty.org/mmiw
The following are steps to help make your visit effective:
- Introduction – Introduce yourself and those who are with you. If possible send a list of those who will be attending to the Congressional office ahead of time
- Thank you – for past support
- “Ask” – Ask for one specific thing, such as to vote for, or perhaps co-sponsor a specific bill
- Stories and/or facts to support the “ask” – To why you are so interested, and how your are affected personally
- Follow-up questions – Respond to questions from the staffer or the Representative or Senator. If you don’t know the answer, say you will look into that and send the information back to the office. Listen closely to the answers to further question you have
- Thank you
- Repeat the “ask” – Leave a fact sheet if possible
- Follow-up – Leave your contact information. Within 3 days send a follow-up email
At FCNL our priority for a Native American policy is to bring awareness to the crisis of violence against Native women. We seek to raise awareness on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women as a part of this Lobby work.Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
- More than 80% of Native women experience violence in their lifetime
- More than 50% experience sexual violence
- Murder rates of Native women are 10 times higher than the general population
- Most of these crimes involve non-Native perpetrators which tribes have limited jurisdiction over.
The Violence Against Women Act is an act that provides a valuable funding to support the investigation and prosecution of crimes against men. This bill is authorized every five years and it allows this funding to be allocated to the programs it supports. The last reauthorization was in 2013. This reauthorization was a significant win for tribes because this created the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. This affirmed tribal authority to prosecute non-native offenders. Prior to this special jurisdiction non natives could not be tried in tribal courts and so these cases would typically fall under federal jurisdiction. But many of these cases would go unprosecuted.Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Goals for VAWA 2019 Reauthorization: Expanding Victim Protections
Congress should reauthorize VAWA, including the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction for tribes and expand this jurisdiction further to protect all victims. This reauthorization is an opportunity to
expand tribal jurisdiction to protect children, tribal law enforcement officers, and victims of sexual assault.
Congress should include the following three bills in VAWA reauthorization:
1) VAWA provisions should include The Native Youth & Tribal Officer Protection Act (which hasn’t been introduced in this session of Congress yet), which would protect children from abuse and protect tribal officers as they carry out Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction.
2) VAWA should also protect Native victims of sexual assault committed by strangers. The Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act (S.288), would reaffirm tribal authority over sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking crimes committed by non-Indians. The bill also removes the exceptions to jurisdiction that required the defendant to live or work on tribal lands, or be in a relationship with a tribal member, thus providing Native victims protections from intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
3) VAWA provisions should include Savanna’s Act (S.227) which promotes tribal access to federal databases and creates a standardized protocol for responding to cases of missing and murdered Indians. The crisis of missing and murdered Native women is well-known in Indian Country, but this epidemic of violence receives little attention outside of Native communities. Advocates have called for better tracking of missing Native women as well better coordination between the complex jurisdictions involved in these cases.
VAWA Reauthorization Should Address the Gaps of Protection in Indian Country
• Keep the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction and tribal authority over Non-Indians.
• Expand current jurisdictions to protect all victims from all forms of violence including: sexual assault, sex trafficking, stalking, and child abuse.
• Protect tribal law enforcement from violence as they are keeping the community safe.
• Provide better tracking of Missing and Murdered Native cases and improve tribal access this this information.
• Create a standardized protocol to missing Native cases to improve coordination across multiple jurisdictions.FCNL: Expanding Protections for Tribes in the Violence Against Women Act
Following are some pieces of legislation I’ve been able to find at Congress.gov At this point the various Congressional committes are discussing the resolutions and bills that have been assigned to them. Time will tell which legislation will be passed out of committee to go on for consideration by the House or Senate. This is a good time to contact your legislators about bills you support, and/or modifications you would like to see made.
I’m sure FCNL will keep us updated about which legislation is being supported, and the status of the legislation. You can get updated information on the FCNL website here, where you can also sign up to receive a monthly newsletter about Native American advocacy. https://www.fcnl.org/about/policy/issues/native-americans
Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced H.R.973 – Violence Against Women Health Act of 2019 on 2/5/2019. You can find the text of H.R.973 here.
Senator Murkowski (R-AK) introduced Savanna’s Act (S.227) on 1/25/2019. You can find the text of S.227 here.
Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduce the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act (S.288) on 1/31/2019. You can find the text for S.288 here.