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Injustice in Indian Country

Jurisdiction, American Law, and Sexual Violence Against Native Women


Amy L. Casselman

Living at the intersection of multiple identities in the United States can be dangerous. This is especially true for Native women who live on the more than 56 million acres that comprise America’s Indian Country – the legal term for American Indian reservations and other land held in trust for Native people.
Today, due to a complicated system of criminal jurisdiction, non-Native Americans can commit crimes against American Indians in much of Indian Country with virtual impunity. This has created what some call a modern day «hunting ground» in which Native women are specifically targeted by non-Native men for sexual violence.
In this urgent and timely book, author Amy L. Casselman exposes the shameful truth of how the American government has systematically divested Native nations of the basic right to protect the people in their own communities. A problem over 200 years in the making, Casselman highlights race and gender in federal law to challenge the argument that violence against Native women in Indian country is simply collateral damage from a complex but necessary legal structure. Instead, she demonstrates that what’s happening in Indian country is part of a violent colonial legacy – one that has always relied on legal and sexual violence to disempower Native communities as a whole.
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This book is the culmination of my research as an adjunct professor of Ethnic Studies, as well as my work as a Case Worker for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. As a Case Worker for the Washoe Tribe’s Native Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, I worked both in urban and rural settings to provide comprehensive support services for Native families—the majority of whom were women with young children. My work often put me in a position in which I became a mediator between the very real needs of Native women and the very bureaucratic needs of a federally funded tribal program. Operating from this point of confluence, I found myself constantly negotiating the various ways that individuals and institutions inscribed violence on the Native women I worked with. The federal government, as part of its trust relationship with Native nations, is responsible for providing basic services to Indian people. Yet, I would spend hours trying to find health care for my clients who were uninsured, days attempting to get students with special needs the educational support that they needed, nights trying to find shelter for clients fleeing abusers, and weeks fighting with child protective services who had illegally removed Indian children from their homes.

Throughout these challenges, the strength of my clients was always very clear to me as they survived adversity and exerted agency in their lives. As they navigated complex American institutions to forge a better life for themselves...

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