Senator Murray with Tulalip Tribes Vice-Chairwoman Parker
(Washington, D.C.) – Last evening, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was presented the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) 2013 Congressional Leadership Award during the NCAI Indian Country Leadership Awards held in Washington, D.C. Sen. Murray was introduced by NCAI President Jefferson Keel and applauded by Washington state's Tulalip Tribes Vice-Chairwoman Deborah Parker, whose tragic personal story of abuse heavily influenced Sen. Murray's efforts on behalf of tribal women in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women act.
"This, my friends, is how we are going to make progress on the big issues that face us," said Senator Murray, accepting the award. "Together, with one voice, and with the stories of the families and individuals that are impacted by the challenges we are working to overcome. I know we have so much more work to do on treaty rights protection, carcieri, housing, economic development in Indian Country, protecting and restoring our natural resources like salmon, and so much more. But today, we should celebrate. This is a huge victory not just for tribal women, but also for tribal sovereignty. And I know that working together we can make other big changes for all of you. I know we can do it not just because I’m optimistic. Not just because you all have the energy and passion. I know because of the proof that’s in this room tonight."
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities.
Sen. Murray's full acceptance remarks:
"Thank you so much Jefferson, for that kind introduction.
"And I want to say a special thank you to all of the Washington state tribes who have traveled the 2,500 miles out here today to what we not so affectionately refer to as 'the other Washington' to be with us. I have to say it’s so good to be among the many friends I have in this room.
"And it’s so good to be with you right now. Because while it’s such an honor to receive this award, I have to tell you it is so much more gratifying to be standing up here today just two days before the President will sign a new version of the Violence Against Women Act into law. A VAWA which will now -- after far, far too long, after all of your efforts, and a hard won compromise -- finally include the protections that tribal women so badly need and deserve!
"Tonight, I want to briefly tell you the story about how we got to the point that we are days away from this bill being signed into law. And I think it’s an appropriate story to tell in light of this truly humbling award you have presented me with - because it embodies how I have always gone about my job.
"As those from my home state here tonight know, I’m not always the flashiest Senator. I don’t do all of the Sunday shows or attend many of the cocktail hours here in D.C. But I do work as hard as possible to stay in touch with the people of my state and the individual and collective struggles they face. I look at the letters they write to my office, I hold roundtable discussions, and importantly, I listen to the stories they tell – and often that is what motivates me to fight for change.
"Never has that been more true than with the effort to include tribal jurisdiction in VAWA. And never has one person’s advocacy or one person’s story driven me quite like Deborah Parker’s - who is here with us tonight. Deborah Parker, as many of you know, is the Vice-Chairman of the Tulalip Tribe in my home state. And it was in that role, that she walked into my office last April to talk to my staff about salmon and natural resource issues.
"During the course of that meeting Deborah happened to find out that we were on our way to passing our bipartisan and inclusive version of VAWA in the Senate, but that we were having a tough time keeping support for a provision on tribal jurisdiction. My staff told her about the fact that the some Senators and wanted to strip out these vital protections we had included for tribal women. Women who - as all of you know - face the reality that non-tribal members all too often get away with abuse and violence. Women who face sexual violence and rape rates far higher than other populations. And women who know that the nearest federal authorities are often many hours away from tribal lands.
"So as she left the meeting, Deborah was asked if she knew of any stories that could help us illustrate just how critical these new protections for tribal women were. She paused, said she would think about it, and that she would get back to us. A short while later, my staff got a call from Deborah saying that she wanted to sit down with me. Later that afternoon, in my small office off the Capitol Rotunda, Deborah and I sat down for a meeting that I will never forget.
"With me Deborah spoke openly about how at a frighteningly young age she faced abuse. She talked of watching as her abuser went free. She talked of how she watched friends and family members suffer the same fate. And about how federal laws had too often rendered tribal women defenseless. It was a story filled with pain but also resilience.
"And thankfully, after our meeting, Deborah was courageous enough that she made clear that she wanted others to hear it. She wanted to speak out so that women like her would have the protections that she never did. And so the following day, on April 25th, Deborah stood next to me, and to Senator Boxer, and Senator Klobuchar in front of a row of cameras and reporters and once again - pushing back tears - she bravely told her story.
"In her remarks to the press she called herself “a Native American statistic” but what she actually did that day was what no statistic ever could. She put a human face on this issue. She reminded all those who were opposing tribal jurisdiction that this wasn’t some abstract legal argument. This was a real crime, with real victims, that was going unpunished. And thankfully, once Deborah realized that her story had the power to change minds, in fact that it could move mountains, she didn’t stop. Soon she was on national cable outlets, in the Seattle Times, and many other newspapers across the country. And believe me, those opposing this bill noticed.
"But still, day after day, week after week, the House of Representatives stood in our way. In fact, time and again, they came to me with watered-down versions of our bill and asked the Senate to go along. But each time they did I thought of the conversation I had with Deborah in my office. And I thought about how I could possibly explain to her that we had settled. That instead of the full tribal jurisdiction we had sought, we were going to go halfway, or worse – not at all.
"So I refused to back down. And together with Deborah we fought on. And then came last week -- a week that started like any other. With the House leadership attempting to pass their bill and refusing to bring ours up for a vote – even though they knew it would pass. But as the week went on, their support eroded. It became clear that Deborah, and NCAI, and the rock-solid coalition of women’s advocates that were behind this bill were too much for House leaders to hold off any longer.
"One by one we saw moderate Republicans stand up to their leadership and a broad coalition of bipartisan House members begin to form. And then on Wednesday it happened, the flood gates opened and with 286 votes we passed a bipartisan bill that finally protects tribal women!
"This my friends is how we are going to make progress on the big issues that face us. Together, with one voice, and with the stories of the families and individuals that are impacted by the challenges we are working to overcome.
"I know we have so much more work to do on: treaty rights protection, carcieri, housing, economic development in Indian Country, protecting and restoring our natural resources like salmon, and so much more. But today, we should celebrate. This is a huge victory not just for tribal women, but also for tribal sovereignty. And I know that working together we can make other big changes for all of you."I know we can do it not just because I’m optimistic. Not just because you all have the energy and passion. I know because of the proof that’s in this room tonight. I know because on Thursday, after over 500 days of waiting, Deborah and I will be at the White House to watch the President sign VAWA into law.
"Thank you so much for this wonderful award.
"Have a great evening."