Violence Against Woman Act Funds Casino-Owning Tribes

Since it was enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been used to route more than $7.5 million in federal grants to 58 Indian tribes that currently own casinos. This conclusion is reached by comparing VAWA grants listed by the Department of Justice and a listing of casino-owning tribes published by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).

Most of the grant money has been handed out since VAWA was reauthorized in 2000. Meanwhile, according to the NIGC, Indian gambling revenues have climbed from $5.4 billion in 1995 to $19.4 billion in 2004.

VAWA, originally approved as part of President Bill Clinton’s omnibus crime bill, initially authorized $1.6 billion in federal spending over five years to improve investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. In 2000, when it was reauthorized, the bill provided for $3 billion in federal spending as its scope was expanded to include such things as federally funded housing, transportation, food and even legal assistance to immigrants seeking visas. The new VAWA authorization, which passed the Senate this week, calls for $3.9 billion in spending over five years.


Each version of VAWA has included spending set-asides specifically for Indian tribes. The current version, about to be passed by a Republican-led Congress, provides for $19.8 million to be spent exclusively for the benefit of Indian tribes. No other demographic group is specifically designated for set-asides in the bill.

The new VAWA authorization includes 15 different provisions in which a mandatory percentage of spending must be dedicated to Indian tribal programs. For example, the bill includes $10 million for long-term housing for female victims of violent crime, of which 15% must be directed to Indian tribes. Another provision authorizes $65 million for legal assistance for female victims of violent crime, of which 10% must be directed to Indian tribes.

The Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women, which was created by the 1994 bill, oversees all VAWA programs. Its spokesman, Eric Holland, said applications for VAWA funds are reviewed by a peer panel, scored, recommended for funding and then dispersed through a number of different grant programs.

Previous STOP (Services and Training for Officers and Prosecutors) grants made under VAWA to Indian tribes have ranged from $31,000 to $899,996. Two casino-owning tribes in South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux and the Rosebud Sioux, have done particularly well with STOP. The Rosebud Sioux, a tribe of 25,000, has received more than $1.5 million in STOP money since 1995, and the Oglala Sioux has received $1 million.

On Aug. 30, 2004, a little more than two months before he was narrowly defeated for re-election by Republican John Thune, then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) announced that the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, a women’s shelter on the Rosebud Sioux reservation, would receive a $306,005 grant under the Violence Against Women Act. The very next day, Daschle announced that the Rosebud Sioux would receive a second $299,996 grant under VAWA.

To justify VAWA’s set-asides for Indian tribes, Jill J. Morris, director of public policy at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, cites a statistic from a 2000 National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control study that found Indian women three times more likely to be assaulted than Caucasian women.

Melinda Zephier, media specialist for the White Buffalo Women Calf Society, said the presence of casinos on the reservations has been a factor contributing to the number of sexual assaults on Indian women there. “We have other people that come into the reservation from other areas from bigger cities because of casinos,” she said. She also noted that “drug and alcohol abuse are very high on the reservation,” contributing to high rape incidences.

At the White Buffalo Women Calf Society shelter, according to a local newspaper report, counselors burn sage to “settle the air” and operate a sweat lodge where women can pray. Zephier said her shelter offers free housing where women can stay “however long they need assistance,” meaning anywhere from 30 days to a couple months. When asked what types of services the shelter offered to help Indian women become self-sufficient, Zephier could not name any. She said, “We don’t push them.”

Many Indian tribes, like Rosebud, now employ D.C.-based lobbying firms. Holland & Knight, one of the most popular, received $1.3 million in 2004 from Indian governments. Holland & Knight’s biggest client is the Jicarilla Apache Nation, which paid the firm $300,000 and has received a $145,209 VAWA grant. This year, the Rosebud Sioux tribe has hired Holland & Knight to lobby for it. A spokesman for Holland & Knight said the firm did lobby for Indian tribal set-asides in the new VAWA authorization.

Before the Thune-Daschle election last year, Congress Daily reported: “Daschle has aggressively pursued funding earmarks targeted at Indian Country, pouring millions of federal dollars into the coffers of local tribes.”