WASHINGTON — Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) today voted in support of H.R. 1585, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). While Cole expressed concern about several partisan provisions in this version of reauthorization, he spoke at length on the House floor yesterday about the great importance of VAWA to tribal nations. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Native American Caucus.
Cole’s remarks as delivered on the House floor are available below.
I have always tried to consider legislation within its full context and look at the overall benefit of the bill, and I’ll certainly do the same with respect to the Violence Against Women Act. Certainly, there are provisions in this version of the reauthorization with which I profoundly disagree – those are particularly related to the Second Amendment. This includes a misguided provision to strip someone of their right to possess a firearm following a misdemeanor conviction. Frankly, I hope and expect that these provisions will change as the bill progresses through the legislative process.
To enact VAWA, to actually achieve the objective, my Democratic friends are going to have to do something they haven’t done so far: actually compromise. And they’ll have to compromise with the Republican Senate and a Republican president, or this important legislation will not come into law.
However, there are compelling things about this legislation that I believe particularly are consistent with my own views and my own voting record on tribal sovereignty and protection of Native women. And I want to be supportive where I can be.
In 2013, Congress authorized the tribal courts’ jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders that are arrested for committing domestic violence or assault against women tribal members on Indian lands. The legislation we are considering today expands this jurisdiction to include not only women, but also tribal children. Further, it extends critical protection to tribal police officers.
There are several important amendments that will be debated related to Indian Country, and I urge the adoption of all of them. I support the right of tribes to enact their own definition of domestic and sexual violence, rather than replacing it with the federal government’s definition. States already have this flexibility—tribes should as well. In addition, I also believe tribal law enforcement should have the authority to have access to national crime information systems.
Mr. Speaker, more than four out of five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. More than half of American Indian and Alaska Native Women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
American Indian and Alaska Native women are almost twice as likely as White women to have experienced violence in the past year. Native women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average in some parts of the country. They also are almost twice as likely to have experienced rape than non-Hispanic White women over the course of their lifetime.
Given these statistics of acts of violence, 96 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women who are victims of sexual violence experienced violence at the hands of a non-Native perpetrators. To reiterate, nearly all the violence committed against Native women is committed by non-Natives.
Mr. Speaker, I do not believe the protection of all women and children is or should be treated as a partisan issue. Tribal governments, through trust and treaty obligations should have the same authority as states to protect women and children in vulnerable situations. All states, tribal and local law enforcement authorities should have access and use of the same tools to prevent these crimes, on or off the reservations.
As I’ve said before: hunters know where to hunt, fishermen know where to fish and predators know where to prey. The passage of a reformed Violence Against Women Act gives tribes badly needed tools to combat the epidemic of violence and abuse in Indian Country.
Mr. Speaker, I urge all Members of the House or Representatives to work together in a bipartisan manner to create in the end a bill that can pass both chambers and be enacted into law.