VAWA 2013 – Part 1


When the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 passed out of Congress , headed for the President’s signature, early this month I was relieved, excited, and saddened all at once.

As a nation of laws, we must work to write and pass decent law, and enforce it on and for ourselves. This one contains  the promise  of trying to deal with problems faced by especially vulnerable groups of women and I am happy about the progress in thought and action. I hope  we can actually accomplish some of the goals we have set with this law.

It is very messy however when it comes to Alaska and I’ve been trying to figure some of it out and see where it leaves us here. There have been a number of news articles and editorials , each of which sends me off thinking and looking at different angles and points of view. I haven’t been able to figure out where to start to share anything until now.

I’ve  decided I’m going to start  with  my Grammy.


I loved my maternal grandmother to pieces. She had a wicked sense of humor and a huge heart.  She answered all my kidly questions, my hundreds, thousands, bazillions of questions with patience and detail.

At 4’9″ , she was the first (and almost only) adult I passed  in height as a young teen. I didn’t get to stand next to her and show off as we were then living far from each other. We wrote each other regularly . I loved her stories of home and garden and family and looked forward to hearing from her .

She had a minor surgery right around her 70th birthday. An infection set in and things got very bad, very fast. She passed before almost anyone in the family could get back home to be with her, to see her.

My little packet of letters, a few photos, and a piece of beadwork  were almost all I had of her for years and years after she was gone . Somewhere along the way my mother and my aunties started adding  pieces of her larger story to what little I knew.

3-16-2013 6;11;48 PM

I knew Grammy’s early  life paralleled that of many Alaska Native children of her time – separated from her family, sent away to a mission school, the combination  leading to a disconnect from home, language , and culture  which made her an outsider at some level, no matter where she was, for the rest of her life.

I knew she lived with overt  racism. That  story has been told over and over by so many people  so many times that  not much of anyone listens anymore but it was real and it was awful. Grammy had  ways of dealing with it that mostly kept her on an even keel but it surely rankled.

What I didn’t know was that Grammy was attacked and raped by a white man  who suffered no consequences. None.  Nary a one.

She was  a recent widow in her mid 40s , trying to care for the 4 kids still at home and hang onto the property she and Grandpa had homesteaded and should have been a sympathetic figure  by almost any measure in that place and time.

However, law enforcement was  uninterested in pursuing the case because she was Native and so somehow or other the attack was her fault. The man who assaulted her told people all around town what he had done and laughed. Laughed. No one stopped him . No one.

Well. Shit.

(Excuse me but that was  the most mannerly of the  responses I had  to it all when I pieced  this story together from conversations with multiple sources.)

Grammy went through a very dark few years after that and I could probably do the strength-of-the-human-spirit-prevails routine to describe her climb out of a resulting problem with alcohol and let it go at that but I don’t want to  . Grammy may have been able to heal herself and work to undo the damage to her children but she should not have had to do so by herself. And many, many couldn’t and don’t manage to do what she did.

Also, I think we have stood in our own way, far too often, in this country telling barely camouflaged awesome-pulled-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps stories to ourselves. We focus on individual triumphs/failures  whilst ignoring the world surrounding the individual.

I think the larger community has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of its members, all of its members,  to exact redress from those who harm others,  and to soothe those harmed – for all of us. It is an essential part of why we organize ourselves as groups.

Violence against women , from strangers , family members, or intimates  is a class of violence we have had a terrible time dealing with.

We know a lot more now than in Grammy’s time  about the emotional damage rape and domestic violence do to all who are exposed to it, directly and indirectly .

We know it costs big bucks too- really big bucks.

The Advocates for Human Rights  pulled together multiple studies  here which point to the economic costs of domestic violence alone, across the world.

Community Costs of Domestic Violence

“Recognizing the pervasive nature of the problem, researchers increasingly have begun to examine the economic effects of domestic violence, both in terms of financial costs to victims as well as the broader impact on national economies. Studies conducted in several different countries have attempted to quantify the aggregate economic costs of domestic violence, and the results are staggering.[6] A 2003 study by the CDC estimated that domestic violence cost the U.S. economy more than $5.8 billion in a single year.[7] Other studies have estimated the annual costs of domestic violence in the United States to be as high as $12.6 billion.[8] A study in the United Kingdom, which quantified pain and suffering costs as well as the costs of services used by victims and the reduction in economic output due to domestic abuse, concluded that domestic violence costs individuals, the state, and businesses £23 billion per year.[9] Studies in Australia and Canada have estimated the annual costs of domestic violence (and sexual assault, in the case of the Canadian study) at A$8.1 billion and CAN$4.2 billion, respectively.[10] Comparison with other spending metrics underscores the magnitude of these costs. For example, a conservative estimate determined that domestic violence costs New Zealand nearly as much as that nation spends on unemployment benefits each year – approximately NZ$1.2 billion. These studies reveal that the costs of domestic violence measure well into the billions.”

As I worked my way through events and opinions about the passage of VAWA 2013 I’ve decided I’m not sure we are ready to put a lot of what we know to good use. Yet.

I am hoping we can have a conversation here . A peculiarly and specifically Alaska oriented conversation.


Dearest Grammy,

It’s a lot harder to figure stuff out without you here to answer my questions but I’m working on it.

I loved you so.

Your Pi


5 Responses to “VAWA 2013 – Part 1”

  1. AKjah Says:

    Pi. Thank you for sharing Grammy. This VAWA act is so mixed up here in AK. What i see as going on is they are afraid of tribal rights to land getting in the way of any resource development that allowing any power to the villages or tribes will hinder exploiting the land. I am also learning as i go so YES this conversation must be on going. Peace to you. AKjah.

  2. alaskapi Says:

    Thank you for stopping in AKjah! I always appreciate your comments and read them carefully when I see them on Alaskan blogs. Welcome to anonymousbloggers.
    If you have time to work your way through the material here , most especially Unit 4, I think you will see some of the basis for confusion and the peculiarly Alaskan problems we have here.

    From the Federal Recognition of Alaska Tribes and Relations with the State of Alaska section :

    “After ANCSA, however, there was considerable debate and challenge as to whether or not ANCSA extinguished the status of the tribes in Alaska. The land settlement placed the land with profit-making Native corporations rather than with tribes, and Congressional findings in ANCSA specified that the settlement should be accomplished “…without establishing any permanent racially defined institutions, rights, privileges, or obligations, without creating a reservations system or lengthy wardship or trusteeship, and without adding to the categories and institutions enjoying special tax privileges or to the legislation establishing special relationships between the United States Government and the State of Alaska.” The findings went on to say that the Act shall not diminish any federal obligations to protect and promote the rights or welfare of the Alaska Native people. Even though some thought these findings indicated that tribal status was terminated, the Act did not expressly terminate tribal status. After the Act passed, tribal activity was relatively quiet during the 1970s, and was mostly expressed through tribal organizations receiving federal money to provide services through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.
    The tribal sovereignty movement in Alaska picked up during the 1980s, as tribes became more active in asserting their existence and jurisdiction through their tribal governments and courts. ”

    Tribal sovereignty is an uncomfortable subject within as well as without the Native community. At present,the state of limited certainties and vast uncertainties as regards the scope of limited self-determination available to Alaska Native tribal governments turns on case law found in section 2 of unit 4.
    The lack of territorial jurisdiction, post ANCSA, makes for muddy, muddy areas of influence/jurisdiction since lands were lodged with the regional for-profits, not with the tribal governments.
    We even had to spend years arguing whether tribes existed here post ANCSA. (THAT was a major waste of time in my book.Like waving our collective hands and insisting some basic part of people’s identity doesn’t exist has ever really worked for resolution of issues… sure, right. I try to be somewhat even handed here at AB but sometimes my own POV can’t help but bust out)

    I hope you stop back by and that we can talk more.

    I would also like to extend a special thank you to the Tanana Chiefs Conference for all the work they do on so many fronts .

  3. elsie09 Says:

    “(…I try to be somewhat even handed here at AB but sometimes my own POV can’t help but bust out)”

    Alaskapi, I LOVE it when your point of view busts out. Thanks for sharing your Grammy with us and trying to explain the VAWA from your Alaskan perspective.

    I bet you have a whole lot more Grammy stories you could share on her life there in Alaska…?!

  4. Jim Says:

    You had a very special grandmother– (after reading your stuff for some time), I’m not surprised.

  5. gatodicima Says:

    HI, Pi – We on the East Coast do tend to think that we’re the Center of the Universe and all that transpires therein… Although I grew up in the Midwest, so should know better – and I often remember that!

    And, here in CT, the Native Americans are represented pretty much by a couple of large and extremely successful resort/casinos, so, as far as I know, don’t often have to deal with the issues of which you write. But I was moved by the story of your Grammy. So many wise and strong women have gone before us!

    I have a GF who has done a lot of shamanic work, and one of the images she shared with me is of “the Grandmothers” weaving the web of the Universe – always there, always wise, always connecting everything to everything else. My own maternal grandmother died of TB when my mother was less than two years old, so, of course, I never met her, and my mother remembers very little about her. I have two photos of her, taken at a sanitarium in Montana… I look a lot like her – which I think is wonderful!

    Thanks for inviting me to your blog!


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