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Pelosi, Deb Haaland Stump for Violence Against Women Act

Albuquerque event showcases Democratic plans for reauthorization

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., is President Joe Biden's nominee for Interior secretary.
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., is President Joe Biden's nominee for Interior secretary. (D.A. Banks/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined House candidate Deb Haaland in Albuquerque Tuesday to advocate for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, touting the bill’s provisions aimed at protecting Native American communities.

“For indigenous women, change has been slow and we are in the fight for our lives,” said Haaland, who, if elected to the Albuquerque-based 1st District seat, would make history as the first Native American woman elected to the House. She is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna.

Native populations are especially vulnerable, with 84 percent of women on reservations experiencing some type of sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to the National Institute of Justice, a research division of the Justice Department.

Watch: Pelosi Campaigns in New Mexico, Speaking About Violence Against Women Bill

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Democrats’ reauthorization proposal, introduced in July, would expand resources to combat violence against women in Native American communities and on reservations.

The 2018 reauthorization proposal, led by House Democrats, would direct the attorney general and Interior secretary to work with tribes to evaluate laws and policies on missing and murdered native women and report to Congress with recommendations.

“We must increase funding for tribal justice systems and track the data because Native women deserve to be counted and we deserve to live,” said Haaland.

During the last reauthorization of the bill in 2013, Congress hit roadblocks as Republicans and Democrats diverged on protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and the LGBT community. A Republican proposal was defeated in the House, but both chambers ultimately passed a bipartisan Senate version.

The 2013 reauthorization extended tribal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans who commit crimes of domestic violence or sexual assault against a Native American woman. Before that, tribal courts had no authority to prosecute non-Indians — even if the perpetrator lived on the reservation, worked for the tribe, and was married to a tribal member.

Both Haaland and Pelosi credited the inclusion of some provisions to address issues facing Native American communities in the 2013 bill, but said that more needs to be done.

“VAWA needs to be modernized and updated so that it works for every family, woman, man, child,” said Haaland. She said that funding for tribal law enforcement will be a priority if she is elected. (In November, Haaland faces Republican Janice E. Arnold Jones that Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales/Roll Call rates as Solid Democratic.)

The 2018 bill also seeks to improve tribal access to federal crime databases. 

During her comments, Pelosi acknowledged members of Native communities who worked with lawmakers to address areas of the 2013 law that could be changed to better serve their communities.

“We must recognize the specific nature of the issues facing the native community, mostly perpetrated by non-Indians,” Pelosi told the crowd in Albuquerque.

When House members return in September, they will have just 11 legislative days before the current authorization of the law lapses.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.