Honoring Nations: Juana Majel-Dixon: The Violence Against Women Task Force

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Juana Majel-Dixon, Chair of NCAI's Task Force on Violence Against Women, reflects on the work of the Task Force on Violence Against Women and their efforts to push for passage of the Violence Against Women Act in Congress.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Majel-Dixon, Juana. "The Violence Against Women Task Force." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"This is Juana Majel-Dixon, who is Chair of the Violence Against Women's Task Force, a 2006 honoree. So we'll see how far we can get with Juana before she has to dart out of here. I want to again say my, send out my deepest appreciations to all of you here in the room, and especially Amy [Besaw Medford] and all of the staff that have worked so hard to pull this together. It's been a great experience and I will see you in another year or two. With that, Juana."

Juana Majel-Dixon:

"Thank you. [Luiseño language]. I just told you I was a tropical chick from California. I can't resist that. They always think I'm Samoan or something when I'm over there. And when I go to Hawaii, they think I'm Hawaiian. I went to Tahiti, they thought I was from Tahiti. When I was in New Zealand, they thought I was Maori. But they didn't think I was Aborigine when I was in the bush in Australia, but that's where I was heading to. What I did say to you, in our traditional manner, I greeted you in the language of my people, the [Luiseño language] people, means ‘western' people. My clan group; I come from the [Luiseño language] family and my language is [Luiseño language]; it means 'dove clan.' As well as the matriarchy of our system is [Luiseño language], which is the bear; so I have the peacemaker and the protector. And in traditional concepts it's little wonder why I do what I do, ay? I also ask you to acknowledge the strong-hearted women of our nations. [Luiseño language] means ‘acknowledging the good of the strong-hearted women of our nations. I also asked you in my language that the words that I speak be of a clear mind and a clean heart. And I also reminded myself that when I give breath to the words, they no longer belong to me, they belong to the people.

I am a traditional appointed leader. Back many years ago, I guess in the old style of youth groups, I was given a provisional license to drive my mother in daylight hours to tribal gatherings and she drove home at sunset because I was too little to drive. And I can remember looking through those big steering wheels. And I would sleep in the back of the car and I would sleep at the meetings. But little did I know, I now have almost 35 years with the National Congress of American Indians. They call me an NCAI baby. I don't know what to think about that. But when the leaders start saying baby to me, I think it's mighty fine. Us Indians we've got good humor. And they don't care what shape our Indian women are in; they just love us. I like that about our guys. I don't care what shape they're in, I just love them. Maybe it's just an Indian thing. Or we're small in number. That's just wonderful about our nations.

I've come to learn so much as a leader. As an appointee I was 19, and I'm going to be 57. I think I'm going to have to die in my leadership position [because] it's a traditional position. There are five us from our five clans, one from each clan. And we're waiting for the next three. Three, of my generation, have died and there are only two of us left. So I've been a traditional councilwoman --legislative council, predominately -- to the tribe for 28 years, 28-plus years, I guess. I stopped doing the math so I figure at 30 I'll leave it at that. As a result, my role with the tribe has a great longevity and I'm a professor for 25 years now, actually 26 years this month at the University for U.S. Policy. I teach U.S. Policy and Federal Indian Law, which is probably why I do some of the things that I do.

But I'm here to share you the impact leadership has had. And I was at the senate, I wanted to be with you. I have a certain part of me that ached for not being with you for the last couple days. But I got to witness something that -- I commend the women of our nations, our community grassroots people who are part of this whole honoring system. They selected people to speak before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee [U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] and they chose our women. Isn't that great? Isn't that incredible? That is powerful. And these weren't women who were leaders in the sense of tradition or election, you know those things that happen, but they had done such grassroots work that they became the voices of all our nations and of all our women about the violence against Native women. It was not an easy testimony 'cause we also had to deal with [???] in the room, which is a very gentle, big gorilla in the room, but we love them. They're just not of our clan, you know. I'm just kidding. No, I'm not. They're good people, but I just think that they got in after we did all the work, and I think you know what that is -- and what you have taught me in order to even sit at this table with you that it had to be something, that she so eloquently said, can be done with that particular person left out and be sustainable. And to witness that and to sit behind them as a leader, told me, yeah, this worked and that the Senate heard them and that was so powerful. You can get on CNN and dial it up or however you do it on the Internet and you can see them. Tammy Young from [Sitka, Alaska] and Karen Artichoker from Sinte Gleska [University], Pine Ridge I think, Kyle [South Dakota] area; very, very, very powerful speakers.

But then what followed that, was a series, a barrage of meetings with senators, and then ending that evening with the Indian -- No ending, actually, the evening with NAHASDA [Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996] and HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development]. But just before that, we finished with the Senate Indian Affairs staffers. And there are things that have happened, and the leadership in the room who have attended some of our gatherings with NCAI and the consultations that followed -- We even created a new Blue Book in case you wanted to know what some of the money went towards. As we left you in Sacramento, we got hit very aggressively by the Adam Walsh Act -- it was the sexual assault registry. And to me I think that's a very talented, very clever example of your researchers that are out there and people who might get the ‘ah ha' when you see a flag go up. Where was Adam Walsh sitting all those years? It was what, 20-plus years before John [Walsh] got his -- It's his son that was killed, Adam, who was brutally murdered and harmed -- It took 20-plus years for that act to follow, but it came right after VAWA [Violence Against Women Act], because inside of that we had a national sexual assault registry.

And one of the things that we accomplished with the women of our grassroots area and our leadership coming together -- I just wish there was a way to capture on film this incredible year, since we last saw each other, of the leadership, listening to your own people, and the people speaking. When we were at this last consultation, they certainly called the woman, Mary Beth Buchanan, to task, but it was -- for me, you see, I'm a California Indian girl. We've always had this standing joke with our Pueblo governors, because we have a lot of female leadership in California and they don't have a whole lot of female leadership in Pueblo country, in the same manner as elected leaders or that kind of a thing. So they tease us mercilessly and tell us how we should be in their areas doing these kinds of duties. And we take the ribbing with great heart and great respect. But I have to tell you, the leadership of the Pueblo councils, of the governors in that room, that set the precedent of the day, was phenomenal. And they even had, there was four designees, Nambe had someone, their judge, and Santo Domingo and I can't remember all -- but they had designated women in their communities that were doing this grassroots effort. And I knew that was at a great of respect but also the recognition of their expertise. That's another transferrable, sustainable evolution of the work that was done and it was humbling and honorable to watch them cause it was their nation that we were in. And so setting the tone, to hear those governors speak and then to be so passionate and understanding of what was going on and how hard it is to implement this law within our own nations. But we're going to take that journey together.

But one of the most powerful things that came out of there -- well, there's going to be a lot of powerful things, so let's just say that everything that we did was powerful. It blows you out of the water, and I'm going to make sure that all of you get this book. And I'll give it to Amy [Besaw Medford] who can give me a list of people. Just give me the number and we'll send it to you. But we got -- in the midst of Adam Walsh, we got our national sexual assault registry funded for $1 million per year for the next two years. Does that make any sense? And out of the clear blue -- now we need to talk to Jim Casey about this. It just so happens that the exact amount that he pulled out of JOM [Johnson O'Malley] is the money that Adam Walsh has. So it's a leadership thing. You follow that stuff. But we need to talk to him. And my leaders are in the room, please make note of that 'cause he kind of squirms a little when you bring it up. My sisters over there, we know nothing. Oh, yeah, Jim Cason. What did I say, Casey? Well, that's probably why. It's just me slipping. Get the right guy, okay? Cason, okay.

We get this book going and we then get another $500,000 for the next two years for the cost of injury study on violence against Native women. That's in the title. We get $1 million for the next two years for the national baseline study. No, it's not $2 million for the tribal sexual offender order of protection registry. We get $1 million per year for the next five years so that's $5 million. And so here Adam Walsh is coming up and -- then they're making it a competitive application, by the way, for the leadership. They did Op 10.

But I wanted to tell you -- oh, three minutes does that mean something? I'm sorry. It's not your fault. We out white the Whites sometimes. It's not a bad thing, but I understand that but it doesn't make sense to me right now. I'll hurry.

One of things I realized in doing this journey is that -- I need you to read the book because then there are the things that we need to do follow up with VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] for the leadership of the community. But I sat in a meeting yesterday following this with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and, as you know, Dorgan's doing the Omnibus Crimes Bill, which is unheard of. This statute has done so many things. And I got this three pages -- and I let Heather have a look-see, Joanne looked at it, and it's like, wow. There are sections -- one is alcohol substance abuse, reauthorization to amend, to address methamphetamine. They want to amend the Indian Alcohol Substance Abuse Act. That's amazing. The section on Indian Law Enforcement Act; the big one there is the mandated declination reports and data collection. The current law authorizes but does not require FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], U.S. attorneys to report to the tribe's tribal law enforcement when they decline to investigate or prosecute a case. That's amazing.

But who's sitting with me when this is being done? These women from the grassroots community to help affect this change. So it's a combination of the leadership and some incredible journey. We've looked at the violence against our women, which we know we will have to look at the fact that it is happening also from our own men. But we went back and asked our elder women, how far back can you go? And different nations we went to, and I can probably get a list of the nations, but the consistent answer, after World War II. So at least we have something to work with and our men of our nations have something to work with, [because] we as strong women support them. They can affect the greatest change amongst their own selves as men. And we're looking at ways to acknowledge -- This law is about reasserting and re-acknowledging and increasing tribal authority to protect its women. So it's a powerful law.

But we've also been hit, just been hit, by the strongest arms of this nation that they have come up with the Adam Walsh -- We are reauthorizing FVPSA, the Family Violence Protection Service Act. There's great things involved; but we've come together to create this tribal core group that was mirroring now the original core group that helped move VAWA and they're wanting to do the same with FVPSA. So it's like, just when we settle down, something else to happen. And then they have Tribal Law Enforcement Arrest Authority, Law Enforcement Information Sharing, Law Enforcement Training; reauthorize/require DOJ [Department of Justice] to appoint tribal prosecutors as special U.S. attorneys to Indian Country; Indian Child Protection Act, Tribal Justice Support Act; reauthorize consultation and institutionalize this U.S. tribal liaison; also, domestic violence pilot project, establish a pilot project; authorize non-Indians to voluntarily enter into drug courts, tribal drug courts; establish federal crime for violation or tribal court protection; reaffirm tribal authority to enforce jurisdiction protection orders. And they're talking about doing it over non-Indians.

And as we have talked, my brothers and sisters that are leaders in the room, of the MOUs [Memorandum of Understanding] that we must do, with all that intermarrying we did with our relocation and boarding schools, and through a few other wasicus and Spaniards -- and they're okay. But the stuff we've done, we now have to take some responsibility and authority for. And then I also have urged our leadership; with this work with women who have influenced me greatly, is that I must enter into a full faith and credit relationship with you, my nation to your nation. And I think that is one of the most powerful things that we have done, reacquire this great nation of America to do that with us and at the least we can do it to each other.

Okay, I'm going to wrap it up. I have more to say but I really missed a lot out here. Maybe I'll write it down and you can read it. I shared a joke with Regina Schofield yesterday, because it was her last day yesterday. And they have created several task forces, which will be federally mandated, which is the VAWA Task Force, the Adam Walsh Task Force, the DOJ Tribal Leadership Task Force and SAMSA [the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] is doing a task force, which is coming from this work. But I said to Regina Schofield, ‘Okay, now that you're out of DOJ, you don't have to worry about the party line and being bushwhacked later.' If you're in Indian Country and you saw Mr. and Mrs. Big Left Hand over there and they come to you because they're stealing in the tribal store, they're elders. And she asked them, ‘So, Mr. Big Left Hand, why are you stealing?' They just kind of look at you as elders do, volumes are said, but you don't get to ask much more 'cause they usually have a sign that says, ‘When did you say you were leaving?' I said, ‘All right, Regina.' I said, ‘You ask that guy, Mr. Big Left Hand, what did you steal?' ‘A can of peaches.' ‘How many peaches were in there?' ‘Seven.' ‘Well, Mr. Big Left Hand, you've got to do seven days in the tribal jail.' A little hand goes up. Mrs. Big Left Hand is up and Regina looks at her. I said, ‘Now Regina, pay attention. This is Indian Country. Yes, Mrs. Big Left Hand.' ‘He stole a can of peas, too.' So I thank you for having me."

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