SHERO SARAH DEER - Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Sarah Deer

Who she is:

  • A Native American lawyer, professor of law at William Mitchell College, and 2014 MacArthur fellow.

  • An advocate for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors in Native American communities.

  • She played an "instrumental role" in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

  • Author of The Beginning and End of Rape : Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America.

  • In 2007, along with Bonnie Claremont, Deer co-authored the 2007 Amnesty International report Maze of Injustice, which documented sexual assault against Native American women.


What she knew:

  • If you are born female on an Native American reservation there’s a 1 in 3+ chance that you’ll be physically and sexually abused over the course of your lifetime.

  • The murder rate for Native American women is 10 times the national average.

  • If you are born female on a reservation 3 out of  5 of your friends will experience domestic violence.

  • In the past when a Native American woman was assaulted or raped by a  “non-native”, there was nothing, legally, she could do about it, even though reservations are sovereign nations and have their own police and courts to prosecute crimes committed on tribal land.

  • In the 1978 Supreme Court case “Oliphant”, the justices ruled that tribal law had no legal jurisdiction to prosecute non-natives for crimes committed within the boundaries of a reservation.

  • More than 75% of people living on reservations aren’t Native American.

  • Up until March 2015 reservation police had no legal authority to arrest or prosecute non-Native American men who commit acts of domestic violence against native women living on reservations.


What she did about it:

  • In 2014 Sarah Deer was named a MacArthur Fellow for her tireless work in passing the congressional "Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women's Act", which does include domestic violence committed by non-native partners, but doesn't yet expand to include assault or rape committed by non-native "strangers".

  • Sarah's working on changing that right now...


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Article by Anna Quick-Palmer