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Eight are Honored for Outstanding Advocacy




Eight people were recognized with Envision Awards for their outstanding advocacy work to eliminate violence against Native women in tribal communities at a special luncheon during the “With Liberty and Justice for All” Conference put on by WomenSpirit Coalition.

The “ForGet-Me-Not” Luncheon was held on the first day of the two-day conference, September 16, at the Little Creek Casino Resort Event Center in Shelton, WA. The theme of the luncheon, ForGet-Me-Not, reminds us to never forget Native women who have been murdered or are missing.

Prior to the awards presentation, Caroline Felicity Antone (Tohono O’odham) told her life story accented with slides of her youth, and Star Nayea (Ojibwe) presented a video and song about domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Dee Koester, WomenSpirit Coalition Executive Director, and Ron Tso, Board President, presented the awards to:

  • April James, Swinomish, 2016 WomenSpirit Coalition Board of Directors
  • Sabrina Desaute, Colville, 2016 WomenSpirit Coalition Board of Directors
  • Marlo Quintasket, Swinomish, for Outstanding Support
  • Cheryl Neskahi Coan, Dine’, 2016 WomenSpirit Coalition Board of Directors
  • Annie Forsman, Suquamish, 2016 WomenSpirit Coalition Board of Directors
  • Tom Tremaine, Tribal Court Judge, for Outstanding Service
  • Cindy Smith, Tribal Court Judge , for Outstanding Service
  • Debbie Lee, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Victim Witness Liaison, for Outstanding Advocacy

The luncheon was sponsored by the Muckleshoot Tribe, Squaxin Island Tribe, and the Department of Commerce, Office on Crime Victim Advocacy.


Coalition Conference Unites…


The Washington State Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Conference, “With Liberty and Justice for All,” held September 16 and 17, and put on by WomenSpirit Coalition, unified and inspired about 100 participants from statewide tribal communities in their efforts to bring liberty and justice to Native women and girls.

Tribal domestic violence staff and advocates, survivors, law enforcement, and state and federal officials joined the two-day conference at the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Little Creek Casino Resort, to hear presentations ranging from sex trafficking to protecting child sexual assault victims. Presenters provided up-to-date statistics and legal information as well as sincere passion and commitment to stop domestic violence and sexual assault against Native women and girls.


Envision Award Recipients

A highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Envision Awards to seven people for their outstanding advocacy work to eliminate violence against Native women in tribal communities:  April James (Swinomish), Sabrina Desautel (Colville), Marlo Quintasket (Swinomish), Cheryl Neskahi Coan (Dine’), Annie Forsman (Suquamish), and Tribal Court Judges Tom Tremaine and Cindy Smith, and US Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Liaison Debbie Lee.

Coalition Conference Unites...

Coalition Conference Unites…

Inner Journey of Healing

Caroline Felicity Antone (Tohono O’odham) gave a moving presentation that included slides of her early years growing up on the rural reservation southwest of Tucson. One of the first and last photos was of five children, Caroline and her four cousins, who were preschool and early elementary aged. Caroline dedicated her presentation to her cousins, who, along with Caroline, were all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Caroline’s presentation was a visual, verbal and real-life statement that women can heal from abuse. As she talked, photos of her childhood merged with those of her current artwork and a close up of her face painted with the symbol of her Nation. She explained that, for years, she shunned her Nation and her origins, but healing from her abuse brought her back home, where she currently works to teach girls about self-respect and healthy relationships.

She shared the methods she uses to heal: She looks at her negative behavior patterns, and starts to act differently. She identifies people she admires and asks them how they developed their healthy behavior. “When we start healing, we want to be the best we can be, by changing habits and focus.”


Information and Inspiration

Presenters captivated attention from the beginning to the end of the conference with examples on how to improve tribal domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs, to historic accounts of oppression, to personal statements of commitment:

  • “Domestic violence against Native women is unacceptable. We will not stop thinking about it, and innovating and working to stop it,” said Tessa Gorman, US Attorney’s Office Criminal Chief.
  • Bonnie Clairmont, Victim Advocacy Specialist, Tribal Law and Policy Institute, noted that in her informal research, she has not found one stand-alone traditional word for rape – linguists must string together a few traditional words to describe it. “My theory is, if you don’t have a name for it, it does not exist,” she said during her presentation on sex trafficking (and its history) in Indian Country.
  • “We can be ashamed (of domestic violence/sexual assault), we can deny it, or we can stop it,” said Caroline Felicity Antone.
  • “Sex trafficking is not a new problem. It is the oldest oppression. When you see women as an object, not as a human being, it is easier to harm them. Sex trafficking is happening everywhere …casinos, truck stops, at shelters, and in our communities. Native youth who are poor are extremely vulnerable,” said Bonnie Clairmont.
  • “If you give a dam (about child abuse in Indian Country) you can be part of the effort to stop it. Remember that the abuse is not the child’s only story. How can we turn it into a healing process?” said Geri Wisner, Tribal Prosecutor, Executive Director of Native American Children’s Alliance. Geri gave precise steps for legal teams and advocates to take to protect children during their trial experiences.
  • Sabrina Desautel, Colville Tribal Prosecutor and Detective Dave Labounty role modelled teamwork and unity of purpose. “We want to bring the human aspect into our jobs. We want to be trusted allies to the victims,” said Sabrina. “I believe I can effect change,” said Dave.
  • Tate London, Western District, Assistant US Attorney, said, “Domestic violence is a national problem that jeopardizes safe homes and safe communities.”


United in Purpose

Tate London was one of the final presenters of the conference, and wrapped it up appropriately by expressing much passion and commitment to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault in Indian Country. One attendee from Quileute stood up to thank him, gave him her business card, and invited him to visit the smaller, rural tribes. “I would love to,” replied Tate.

Sabrina Desautel gave a “shout out” to Tate which inspired him to summarize the feelings of both presenters and attendees. “If you have a heart, how could you not be concerned about this problem? We care deeply about our communities.”


Helping Native Women in a Global Way


The Indian Law Resource Center is a nonprofit organization founded and directed by American Indians. Since 1978, it has provided assistance without charge to Indian nations and other indigenous peoples throughout the Americas working to protect their lands, resources, environment, and cultural heritage.

Since 2007, the Center has worked on a national strategy to reframe the issue of violence against Native women as a human rights issue. Grassroots Native women, their advocates, and Indian nations are increasingly turning to the international community to combat the epidemic levels of violence against Native women.  United States law has created a discriminatory legal system that often allows criminals to act with impunity in Indian country and Alaska Native villages, and perpetuates an escalating cycle of violence against Native women and girls.

“Women who are subjected to violence should not be protected less and discriminated against just because they are Native and were assaulted on an Indian reservation or in an Alaska Native village,” says Jana L. Walker (Cherokee/Shawnee/Delaware), Senior Attorney and Director of the Center’s Safe Women, Strong Nations Project. “In fact, it was the unfair, unjust system of laws in the United States that led to the establishment of the Center and its work for indigenous peoples in the first place.”

This work highlights the United States’ failure to comply with its own law, including its trust responsibility to Indian nations, and its international human rights obligations such as those found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Adopted by the UN in 2007 and endorsed by the United States in 2011, the Declaration offers new opportunities to improve United States law to restore safety to Native women and to strengthen Indian nations. Violence against Native women is addressed in Article 22(2), which calls on countries, “in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection . . . against all forms of violence and discrimination.”

In September 2014, the UN held its first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The outcome document of the Conference contains important commitments by the 193 member countries of the UN General Assembly to address violence against indigenous women.

Indigenous peoples and organizations are now working together to build on the momentum of the World Conference.  In June, the Center joined with the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund in submitting two written statements on violence against indigenous women to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The statements were strongly supported by WomenSpirit Coalition and seven other Native organizations and tribes: Alliance of Tribal Coalitions to End Violence; California Association of Tribal Governments; Central Council of Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska; Mending the Sacred Hoop; National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center; Strong Hearted Women’s Coalition, Inc.; and Uniting Three Fires Against Violence.

These statements recommended that (1) the UN Commission on the Status of Women designate the empowerment of indigenous women as an emerging issue for consideration at its next session in 2016; and (2) the Human Rights Council hold a panel to examine the causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls, perhaps during its annual discussion on the rights of women, and request a report by the UN Secretary-General with concrete recommendations for action on violence against indigenous women.

WomenSpirit Coalition is working with the Indian Law Resource Center and its work with the United Nations. Last year, the Coalition sent two representatives to the UN World Conference on Indigenous People held in New York City.

Increasingly, Native organizations are learning how to use international human rights mechanisms as an effective ways to raise global awareness about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States.  “We are learning that, by supporting international advocacy efforts, coalitions like WomenSpirit can complement and strengthen the grassroots efforts at home by bringing top-down pressure from the international community to bear on the United States,” said Dee Koester (Lower Elwha Klallam), Executive Director of WomenSpirit Coalition.

“All this can spur dialogue, set precedents, and guide and support policy and law reform agendas to better protect indigenous women,” added Walker.

The Indian Law Resource Center and WomenSpirit Coalition urge all those wanting to end violence against Native women to support this work at the United Nations:

  • Get informed about international advocacy efforts to combat violence against indigenous women. Materials are available on the Center’s website and current information is also accessible through the Center’s Facebook page.  Share information with your fellow advocates and tribal leaders and urge them to get involved.
  • Tribes, Indian organizations, and coalitions can often directly join written and oral statements and help plan collective efforts to publicize this work.
  • Ask your tribal leaders to participate in key UN meetings, such as those of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Commission on the Status of Women, both of which meet annually in New York City.

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United Nations – Help Stop Violence Against Native Women

Nikki Finkbonner & Dawnadair Lewis

The National Congress of American Indians and Native American Rights Fund submitted two joint oral statements to the 29th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, June 15 – July 3, 2015. The two statements addressed violence against indigenous women in the context of the United Nations World Conference held last year. The statements included recommendations for carrying out decisions made in the World Conference outcome document, and were presented by Jana Walker, Senior Attorney, Indian Law Resource Center, on June 17 and 19.

The first oral statement*, Combating Violence Against Indigenous Women, included this information:

  • Indigenous women worldwide often suffer multiple forms of discrimination and disproportionate violence and murder not only because of their gender, but also because they are indigenous and members of indigenous peoples and communities.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be assaulted than other women; one in three will be raped and three in five will be physically assaulted. Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault in America with “reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than in the rest of the United States.”
  • The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the rights and needs of indigenous women and children, calling on States to ensure they enjoy full protections and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.
  • At the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous People, the United States delivered a joint statement by 35 countries expressing deep concern and calling for greater attention on addressing violence against indigenous women and girls.

The statement urged the Council to:

  • Hold a panel on this issue during its annual discussion on women’s rights.
  • Request a report from the Secretary- General with recommendations to enhance the mandates of its existing special procedures to request regular joint reports on this issue.

The second oral statement*, Combating Violence Against Indigenous Women By Implementing Decisions of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, included this information:

  • The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on States to ensure that indigenous women enjoy full protection against all forms of violence and discrimination. Even so, indigenous women and girls continue to suffer from multiple forms of discrimination and disproportionate violence and murder.
  • Strong action is needed to end this violence including the United Nations developing a system-wide action plan to realize the ends of the Declaration with particular attention provided to the rights of indigenous women and children.

The statement recommended that the Council:

  • Hold a panel on the topic during its annual discussion on the rights of women.
  • Request a report from the Secretary-General with recommendations to enhance the mandates of existing special procedures to request regular joint reports on the issue.

The UN Human Rights Council concluded its 29th session after adopting 26 texts including this resolution:

(A/HRC/29/L.16/Rev.1) on accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: eliminating domestic violence, adopted without a vote, the Council urges States to support initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality and at preventing, responding to, and protecting women and girls from domestic violence; and calls upon States to take effective action to prevent domestic violence, including by publicly condemning, addressing and penalizing perpetrators.

*Complete statements are available online.

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