Southern Ute tribal member Diane Millich joined other Native women and tribal leaders on Thursday, March 7 to celebrate with President Obama the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Millich opened the event and introduced Vice President Joe Biden, sharing her story, which has attracted national media attention recently— including recent articles in The Seattle Times and The New York Times. She was a victim of domestic violence whose husband could not be prosecuted under a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said tribal courts did not have jurisdiction over non-Natives committing crimes on tribal land.
Provisions carried as part of the reauthorization will prevent that from happening to another woman: The act grants tribal courts the missing authority.
“Indian Country has some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in America. And one of the reasons is that when Native American women are abused on tribal lands by an attacker who is not Native American, the attacker is immune from prosecution by tribal courts. Well, as soon as I sign this bill that ends,” Obama said, moments before signing the bill. “Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear. And that is what today is all about.”
“Now that the tribal provisions have been enacted and protection for all women reauthorized, justice can march forward,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “Today is a great day, because it marks the beginning of justice and the end to injustice that has gone unanswered for too long.”
“It was really amazing,” Millich said during a meeting with the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council on Tuesday, March 12. “[I am honored to] speak for those who have been silenced, those that are still scared.”
To honor her work, Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr. read aloud a letter of appreciation and gave Millich a Pendleton blanket.