I’ve written extensively about the very real problems in the Violence Against Women Act pertaining to due process rights for non-tribal members accused of crimes in tribal jurisdictions. The tribal justice system is prone to woeful levels of incompetency and corruption, and there are serious questions about whether or not non-tribal members can get fair hearings in tribal courts given that the VAWA now gives tribes jurisdiction over them.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, during a visit to the Spirit Lake reservation, voiced some of those concerns today:
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told a gathering of victim assistance professionals from the state’s American Indian reservations in Bismarck this week that he would not feel “safe” on the reservations because of new provisions in the recently adopted Violence Against Women Act that would allow non-natives to be tried in tribal courts, according to one official who was present.
Cramer said he believes the tribal provisions in the act will be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, according to an account of the Tuesday meeting by Melissa Merrick, director of the Spirit Lake Nation’s victim assistance program.
Merrick, unfortunately, is now claiming in an internet posting that Rep. Cramer “verbally abused” her and made “threats of violence” against the tribe:
In my opinion, Kevin Cramer is the epitome of white male privilege. He did not come to the meeting with the intention to listen. He came with his own agenda. He made threats of violence towards my Tribal leaders, spoke of how dysfunctional our people are, and focused on how unfair the Tribal Court system would treat a non-Native offender. This man represents North Dakota on a national level. There are 5 reservations in North Dakota. From the way he spoke, he cares nothing of them, and in fact seems to think we are beneath him. It is 2013. One would think racism would not be as prevalent and blatant as those 30 minutes spent with Congressman Kevin Cramer proved to be. If he is comfortable speaking so openly against natives, it frightens me to think of how he speaks of us behind closed doors.
As a native woman, I am part of a group that has been most victimized; more than any other demographic group. As a survivor, throughout my life I have been victimized by men. In his arrogance, Cramer probably doesn’t realize he just did the very same, and in front of an audience.
Cramer, not surprisingly, is disputing the veracity of the account.
I wasn’t there, but I’m finding these claims from Ms. Merrick to be a little hard to believe. A sitting member of Congress deciding to use what was an otherwise routine meeting with tribal officials to “threaten” tribal members?
I doubt it, but I’m checking with Rep. Cramer’s office to see if there’s any footage of the exchange.
More likely, I think, is that Rep. Cramer was saying some things about the VAWA that Merrick didn’t want to hear, and she’s now attempting to use a sort of emotional trump card to dismiss Cramer’s concerns.
Because Cramer is right. The VAWA puts the rights of non-tribal members accused of crimes on tribal lands very much in jeopardy.