At Cherokee Nation, the largest tribal government in America, we recognize and respect women as life givers, culture bearers and the caretakers of our people. Their health, wellness and safety must be protected at all levels of government – tribal, state and federal.
We are grateful for support of The Not Invisible Act of 2019 (H.R. 2438), a bipartisan bill to increase national focus on the silent crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Introduced by U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Markwayne Mullin and Sharice Davids, all citizens of federally recognized tribes, the bill will not only create national awareness of this epidemic, it will implement new measures to stop it.
The bill establishes an advisory committee on violent crime comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers and survivors, who will make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice. If passed, the Act would create a position for an expert within the Bureau of Indian Affairs who would be responsible for improving coordination of violent crime prevention efforts across all federal agencies.
We at Cherokee Nation, a matrilineal tribe, support this effort and are thankful for the leadership, including the two Representatives from Oklahoma, for taking the lead on this critical issue. It is crucial that we not wait any longer to raise awareness about violence against Native Americans, especially women and children. The statistics are shocking.
Data from the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 4 out of 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. One of the leading causes of death for Indian women between ages 10 and 34 is homicide. American Indian and women experience murder rates 10 times the national average. Nationally, non-Native men commit the majority of assaults against Native women.
Every Cherokee woman - every American Indian woman for that matter - has the absolute right to feel safe. As sovereign tribal nations, we must step forward and say these current realities can no longer be tolerated.
To say Cherokee women are an essential part of our tribe is an understatement, as 70 percent of our tribal workforce is women. They are strong leaders who drive our government forward and often do so while juggling family responsibilities. They are environmental stewards, physicians, soldiers, artists and policy makers. They are our mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters and daughters. To appreciate Cherokee heritage and culture is to appreciate the role women have played in our historical and political past, as well as our future for the next seven generations.
For the protection of Native families and communities, the passage of this Act is necessary. With best practices being shared and the proposed advisory committee, we can successfully address the crisis that has plagued our tribes for decades. We can drive down the numbers through education, awareness and with better policing and prosecuting tools.
Recently, President Trump issued a proclamation recognizing Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day. I would urge other tribal leaders throughout Indian Country to support this important piece of legislation because passage of the Not Invisible Act of 2019 is vital to our collective future. Previous efforts in Congress to reduce crime in Indian Country, including the Tribal Law and Order Act and Violence Against Women Act, have strengthened and improved our tribal justice systems. These successful laws complement the purpose of the MMIW bill that is before Congress now.
By Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker