The lengthy article by Dobie documents the lawlessness on the Standing Rock reservation, where women (and men who were molested as children) mainly have no hope that perpetrators of sex crimes will be prosecuted. The tribal police "do nothing," according to Beth Melancon, a social worker at the Abused Adult Resource Center (AARC) in Bismarck, No. Dakota. She tells the writer: "So many times, [the report of a sex crime] stops at the tribal level and it is forgotten about. They keep it under wraps." Melancon says that 75 percent of rape and molestation incidents do not go beyond the tribal police. And if the BIA police do not pass on the report of a major crime, then the FBI does nothing.
Although the Harper"s story seems to be well-documented, I called Sarah Deer, an assistant professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, to get her opinion. Deer, a member of the Muscogee Nation, has focused her legal work on violent crime on Indian reservations. She was a writer of Amnesty International"s "Maze of Injustice" report.
"I think it"s a good article," Deer responded, regarding "Tiny Little Laws." "It reflects what I"ve heard and the work that I"ve done. It"s consistent with all of that."
As far as federal action to remediate the horrific problem of rape and sexual molestation on the rez, Deer pointed out that Congress passed the Tribal Law and Order Act last July, in response to the Amnesty International report and other publicity. The new law "doesn"t resolve even half of the issue, but it"s a step in the right direction." She said that there has been no funding for increased law enforcement resources under the Tribal Law and Order Act.
In response to my question, Deer said that she has been happy with Sen. Al Franken, who sits on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He has been listening to the concerns of Native women, and has "voiced his support and commitment to the issue," according to Deer.
At the end of our conversation, Deer emphasized that violence against Indian women is not a new issue. "To present it as something that hasn"t been going on for a really long time is a mistake," she said. "Most of the Native women who have been living in the reservation communities will tell you that this has been going on for over a hundred years…. If we treat it like a new problem, our solutions might not… really get at the heart of the problem."
If readers are interested in learning more about this issue, Sarah Deer will be one of the participants in a symposium, "Gender-Based Violence and Genocide: Congo, Native Americans, and Ivory Coast," which will take place 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12 at William Mitchell College of Law, 875 Summit Ave., St. Paul.