While at the most recent state coalition membership meeting held on March 26, 2013, two of North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s staff and North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer were on the agenda. They were brought in to listen to the Directors of programs throughout North Dakota. We were instructed to voice our concerns, needs, and other issues that are affecting our programs. We had a lot to discuss. The recent passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), including Tribal provisions giving limited jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators, was a long, hard-fought battle that many are grateful for. The sequester was looming over all of the Directors’ heads. Senator Heitkamp’s staff were great. They listened, took notes, and asked questions. We all expressed our thanks for Senator Heitkamp’s support. Immediately following Heitkamp’s staff was North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer. A couple of Program Directors spoke, then I followed. Knowing that Cramer spoke out openly against the constitutionality of the Tribal Provisions in VAWA, I thanked him for his support and proceeded with my concerns including how the Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program (TSASP) was taken out of the CTAS grant solicitation that went out to Tribes. I said that our state, because of the oil boom, has been impacted negatively. I mentioned that the program in Fort Berthold, for example, has seen drastic changes.
Cramer cut me off and said, “Do you know how much Fort Berthold received in oil taxes last year?”
I calmly responded, “No, I am from Spirit Lake. We don’t have oil. We have water… from all the flooding.”
Then he began to state how many warrants were in the Standing Rock Tribal Court that haven’t been acted on.
Again I told him, “I am from Spirit Lake, I can only speak on Spirit Lake.”
From the beginning, he does his best to derail the discussion.
Melissa Merrick attempts to keep the meeting on-track:
I shared that I am a survivor, and that the Tribal provisions would have benefitted my own story, and that these incidents do happen.
Cramer stated that, “Tribal Governments are dysfunctional. Tribal Courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non- Native man get a fair trial on the reservations?”
Cramer said there would be no due process. I asked him if he had ever been to the reservation.
“Yes,” he said.
I then asked, “Have you been to the Tribal Court?”
“No,” he said.
I said, “Well, that’s not fair for you to say that if you have never been there. How could you know?”
It should be noted here that Native defendants get tried in state courts (i.e. non-reservation) all the time, are overrepresented in non-tribal prisons, and I don’t see anyone protesting that state courts shouldn’t have jurisdiction over residents of reservations. When Native Americans who technically live on reservations are charged with crimes on non-reservation land, they get tried through the state court systems, and we (i.e. privileged white folks) tend to assume they get as fair a trial as anyone else.
Cramer then stated that he wanted to “ring the Tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall.” This statement was made in front of a room full of people who are working to end violence. Again, he went on and on about how Tribal governments are dysfunctional, and how unconstitutional the Tribal provisions in VAWA are. At this point, the other Directors began to get up and walk out of the room. Cramer focused on how he thought a non-Native man would be treated unfairly in the Tribal Court.
He then said, “As a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now.”
I asked, “Why? What are you going to do?”
I should reiterate that the subject at hand is not Native Americans committing crimes against non-Natives on reservations. It is, in fact, about non-Native men abusing Native women on reservations.
Does Kevin Cramer think he’ll be unable to step onto a reservation without assaulting a Native woman?
He said the federal system can do a better job. I asked if he knew how long the federal process took. My words were met with silence, and a smirk. I tried to pull the focus back on the victims. I told everyone, including Cramer, that I appreciated that VAWA passed with the Tribal Provisions and that I was glad for it. I implored them to remember that VAWA is meant to protect victims first, not the perpetrators.
Cramer then said, “It’s unconstitutional,” and that if he steps foot on the reservation he has to assume he won’t get a fair trial.
This is a good question unto itself: why is he (and all the other anti-tribal-provision GOPers) so determined to assume that a non-Native defendant will get shafted in a tribal court? Is he afraid the tribal courts will treat guys who look like him the way federal courts treat Native Americans?
The other Native woman in the room was visibly upset, with tears in her eyes. She commented on the overrepresentation of Natives in the prison system, and that Cramer knew we [Natives] don’t always get a fair trial off the reservation.
Wait for it…
As he got up to leave, Cramer saw how upset the other Native woman in the room was. He grabbed her without her consent, hugging her. Then he said, “I love you.”
And this is the part where I go: “EWWWWWWWWWW!” *sprays self with hot water and disinfectant*
I feel so, so bad for that woman who had the misfortune of being in the same room as Kevin Cramer. He has a violent disposition, no respect for women’s boundaries, and very little self-awareness. He is clearly pissed as hell that reservation land will no longer be a place where non-Native men can beat and rape Native women with impunity, and that Native women are no longer safe targets for his sense of entitlement.
North Dakota voters, please don’t let this choad serve more than one term.