If you're at all like North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer, you'll know that the best way to comport yourself in a hearing at which a deeply disenfranchised population is attempting to redress the systematic injustices it has endured for centuries — with a focus on the disproportionate rate of murder and sexual assault its female population faces — is to belligerently ignore all of the presenter's comments, publicly threaten her people with violence, and, if you reduce a woman in attendance to tears with your vitriolic ignorance, it's best to seize her and embrace her against her will. You know! Just crushin' some Congressman business, nothing to see here.
If you're not like North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer (which is to say you are in possession of at least a minute amount of social grace and the faintest glimmer of a soul), you'll most likely be horrified by his behavior. The Congressman in question attended a state coalition membership meeting on March 26 with the objective of listening to program directors from North Dakota voice the "concerns, needs, and other issues that are affecting [their] programs." One of the program directors was Melissa Merrick, a Native American woman who directs the Spirit Lake Victim Assistance and serves on three other coalitions that provide aid and counseling to Native American victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. There to speak about the need to protect the Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program, she was aware that Congressman Cramer did not agree with the constitutionality of provisions in the recently-renewed Violence Against Women Act that address the concerns of Native women.
Some background: 34% of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes (this is twice the national average for non-Native women). 39% will be victim of domestic violence, and the rate of murder for Native women is ten times the national average. Before the addition of the new provisions to VAWA, tribal courts lacked the jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native men — even when these men had committed crimes on tribal land — essentially allowing non-Native men to sexually assault Native women with impunity. The tribal provisions give tribal courts jurisdiction over cases involving domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protection orders — all within reservation boundaries.
After Merrick addressed her concerns over program cuts, Congressman Cramer grew increasingly irritable, going on a long tangent about his belief that the Supreme Court was likely to overturn the tribal provisions. The crux of his argument (which he formulated despite having never been to a tribal court) was that there was no way for a non-Native man to receive a fair trial from the "dysfunctional" tribal governments. Despite Merrick's calm, rational interjections in which she stressed the importance of protecting victims of sexual violence, Cramer refused to listen. In front of a room filled with anti-violence activists, this moral wreck of a Congressman stated that he wanted to "wring the tribal council's neck and throw them against the wall."
No, you did not misread that. In the most hopelessly confusing, abject, and misguided rhetorical move ever made, Congressman Cramer became so enraged that a population disproportionately targeted with violent crime had been given a method to protect itself that he threatened their government officials with violence.
Furthermore, to speak at length about a tribal court being potentially unfair to white men is beyond hypocritical since, oh, I don't know, the American justice system imprisons people of color at a hideously disproportionate and egregiously unjust rate. The incarceration rate of Native American men is 38% higher than the national rate. In South Dakota, where Native Americans comprise 8% of the state's population, 22% of the male prison population and 35% percent of the female prison population is comprised of Native people. On average, Native Americans receive longer sentences and serve longer time in prison than non-Natives. It is absurd to act as though empowering Native people to prosecute crimes that affect them incommensurately is an affront to the justice system. The only thing that's threatened by the tribal provisions is white privilege.
He went on to say, "As a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now," even though the only people threatened by the tribal provisions are THOSE WHO COMMIT VIOLENT SEX CRIMES AGAINST NATIVE WOMEN (although, to be fair, he had just violently threatened the tribal council, so perhaps it makes sense that he felt uneasy with the court's new authority over a very specific subset of crimes).
As he was exiting the "hearing" at which literally no hearing was done, Congressman Cramer noticed that the other Native woman in the room had started to cry. Without her consent, failing to understand that the sexualization and assumed access to the bodies of Native American women is an incredibly negative and widespread ideology that was used to justify the dispossession of the Native people's land and the cultural dominance of colonial settlers, he hugged her and said, "I love you."