Shelters can mean the difference between a Native woman going missing and/or being murdered

by Mike Williams, Akiak Native Community

The following is the oral testimony given during the Virtual Family Violence Prevention & Services Act (FVPSA) Government-to-Government Consultation meeting which took place on Sept. 8-9, 2021.

My name is Michael Williams, Chief of the Akiak Native Community, a Yupiit Village in Alaska. We will submit written testimony by the deadline and as a long time member of the National Congress of American Indians, we support NCAI’s testimony.

I want to take a moment to recognize that today is Native Women’s Equal Pay Day. On average, Native women are paid 60 cents to every dollar their White, non-Hispanic male counterpart makes. This is simply unacceptable. Native women must work 22 months to make the same income white, non-Hispanic men earn in a 12-month period. When women are paid less, they have less money for basic family necessities like rent, groceries, healthcare, transportation, and childcare. Closing the wage gap is integral to improving the health and well-being of women and families. We must all support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 205) as a step towards ending the pay gap and ensuring economic security for all.

Now, I thank the many survivors of domestic violence, their advocates and family members for speaking their truths and never giving up, including family members of those who have gone missing and/or been murdered. Their voices must continue to energize and inspire us to do better

•to carry out the federal trust responsibility to assist tribes

•to exercise our tribal sovereignty to protect women and children who experience domestic violence disproportionately.

In fact, the words of our late Tillie Black Bear who spoke at the 1978 Civil Rights Commission Consultation entitled Battered Women: Issues of Public Policy as a survivor and advocate and shelter founder energize and inspire us now. Tillie asked “What about the women?” This question is meant for us to listen and respond affirmatively to all that women say they need.

Next, I thank the federal officials here today, especially from the Family Youth and Services Bureau who have coordinated with the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to organize this first government-to-government consultation on shelter and supportive services for victims of domestic violence.

I also appreciate other federal officials who are here and ask each one to think of short and long-term possibilities for how they can contribute to strengthening shelter and supportive services for Native victims of domestic violence, especially addressing housing, children/youth, alcohol/substance abuse, and economic security.

Last, but not least, I thank NCAI and our Violence Against Women Task Force Co-Chairs Juana Majel and Shannon Holsey for their unwavering strong hearted leadership. I honor and recognize Co-Chair Juana Majel for her 18 years co-chairing the Task Force pushing and inspiring our national movement to restore Indigenous protections and reform systemic barriers.

We hope that the FVPSA Office will continue these government-to-government consultations annually so that we can work together in meaningful ways to problem solve about how to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence, particularly American Indian and Alaska Native victims. We ask that you provide tribes with not less than 120 days notice to give us time to prepare, and as much as possible avoid subsistence times which generally for Alaska tribes are June and September.

Almost 21 years ago in 2000, NCAI passed a resolution at our annual session in Minnesota which supported the creation 3 years later of our Violence Against Women Task Force. Specifically, the resolution stated:

WHEREAS, the health, safety, welfare, education, economic and employment opportunity, and preservation of cultural and natural resources are primary goals and objectives of NCAI;

WHEREAS, all Indigenous Native Cultures have a belief that respects and honors Native women as life and care givers of nations;

WHEREAS, it is necessary for NCAI as the leadership for tribal governments to be pro-active in defense of Native women to curtail and prevent violence against Native women;

WHEREAS, failure to recognize and acknowledge domestic violence as having a major impact on Native communities, families, women and children, and diminishes, not only Native women but, also diminishes the heart and spirit of Native Nations as sovereign; and

WHEREAS, the future of indigenous nations rests in the secure status of women, to live in an environment free of violence.

Three years later in 2003 at NCAI’s Midyear in Arizona, we passed another resolution supporting the

•Creation of a Federal grant program to support grassroots non-profit Native women’s organizations to provide services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence; and

•Creation of a Federal grant program for grassroots Native women’s organization to build shelters and transitional housing for Native women.

As of today 18 years later, less than 60 Native shelters and less than 300 tribal programs addressing violence against women cannot be the markers for providing women with the comprehensive assistance they need.

NCAI’s 2003 resolution calling for a Federal grant program to build shelters and transitional housing remains an outstanding need for which we need federal support. These shelters are also not solely bed space, but can be the difference between a Native woman going missing and/or being murdered and having the immediate and long term support she and her children need. The long term support that shelters have and can continue to provide our national movement to end domestic violence and violence against women is the key to restoring Native protections and reforming systemic barriers.

If we want to prevent MMIW and stop further trauma of our children and grandchildren, Native women and their children need shelters, housing and the range of crisis and long term supportive services that advocates and shelters provide.

Hence, we call on HHS, DOJ, and other federal agencies to support the tribal enhancements in the reauthorization of FVPSA including the increase in FVPSA tribal resources, including the tribal set aside increase from 10% to 12.5% of total appropriations, funding for a dedicated national Indian domestic violence hotline and a separate set aside for tribal coalitions. We also ask for other federal agencies to share what resources they have available that could possibly assist with shelters and supportive services.

The current base allocation formula that the FVPSA Office has used fails to meet the needs of women in too many communities. As the FVPSA Office Director Shawndell Dawson shared during the June 30th Consultation Overview webinar, 62% or 86 of the 138 tribal grants, including the Akiak Native Community are the smallest of the awards. The need for a tribal advocate at a minimum must be the base service available for all Native women and tribes. Advocates can be the difference between life and death for women and their children.

Please explain what tribal awards would look like with at least 3 different base amounts of $55,000, $100,000 and $150,000. Akiak Native Community supports the overall increase in the tribal set aside proposed in FVPSA reauthorization and supports an increase to the base allocation, but again we need to understand what awards would look like for tribes currently receiving FVPSA.

We would also recommend that the FVPSA Office defer to tribes’ population numbers as the most accurate data over federal data such as Census or BIA numbers.

In closing, as NCAI recognized in our 2000 resolution, we recognize and acknowledge domestic violence has a major impact on Native communities, families, women and children, and diminishes, not only Native women but, also diminishes the heart and spirit of Native Nations as sovereign.

Increasing resources for the current 60 tribal shelters as well as new tribal shelters and supportive services for victims of domestic violence, for Native women and their children helps to heal and strengthen the heart and spirit of Native sovereign nations.

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