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Violence Against Women Act undergoes revision, extends protections of indigenous citizens

On April 4, the Maine House and Senate passed a bill that authorized the right of indigenous community members to be considered in prosecutions which fall within the jurisdiction of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This act now officially states that the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township have the right to prosecute anyone for acts of domestic violence under the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWRA) of 2013. This change addresses language issues in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement of 1980 which had prevented indigenous communities from persecuting non-native offenders.

This legislation change is part of the negotiated terms of the revised Maine Indian Claims Settlement of 1980, which was reviewed by a task force in February 2020. The task force provided critique and perspective in order to revise portions of the settlement to better represent the rights and protections that are due to members of Maine’s indigenous community.

In the indigenous community, one in four indigenous women experiences assault or domestic violence. Due to the language of many state policies, indigenous communities are not offered the same opportunities to pursue prosecution for domestic violence cases.

Maine’s indigenous community has relied on advocacy, as well as working in collaboration with Gov. Janet Mills, to raise awareness of the importance of this authorization. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross, of Portland.

“It has taken years of incredible resiliency, leadership and sacrifice of tribal members,” Talbot-Ross told the Beacon. “We honor their humanity and ensure that access to justice and protection from violence is the law for all of the people of Maine.”

Many members of Maine’s indigenous community have spoken in support of the policy change. Rep. Rena Newell, a Passamaquoddy representative, said that she felt encouraged by the passage of this legislation.

“Tribal citizens need to know that they will be safe and protected,” Newell said. “This bill further acknowledges the need to recognize and respect Tribal Sovereignty within Maine for Tribal governments to exercise jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses committed on our land.”

Maulian Dana, a UMaine Alumna and Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador has spoken in strong support of this legislation alteration. Dana has been a strong advocate for domestic violence survivors throughout her time as ambassador. She has two children, who she says motivate her to continue to advocate for indigenous rights.

“We have taken an important step in making our communities a safer place for all, especially Wabanaki women. Indigenous women all over the country are the victims of crimes at a rate higher than any other group and part of the tragic nature of the crisis is jurisdictional issues that complicate cases and further victimize the victims,” Dana told the Portland Press Herald. “As a Penobscot woman and mother of two daughters, this bill is personal for me and for many people I love and care about … I am grateful today for the hard work paying off. This is how we help heal intergenerational trauma.”

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