Columbus Day for the Conquered: Native Women Opposed to Kavanaugh Swayed Murkowski

One of the few pleasant surprises to come out of the extraordinary fuckery of the "battle" over Brett Kavanaugh (if by "battle," you mean, "a pre-determined outcome where everyone pretended the fix wasn't in, especially Susan fucking Collins") was when Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, actually voted against Kavanaugh. And one major reason for Murkowski opposing her own party was the plea from Native women survivors of sexual assault and violence.

"Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault and have reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than in the rest of the United States," according to the Indian Law Resource Center. And some of these women showed up in DC to lobby Murkowski, who, to her credit, met with many of them over the course of the week. 

But the pressure on Murkowski ran deep in the Alaskan Native community, whose support was at least partially responsible for her electoral victories in 2010 (especially) and 2016. 

In an open letter to Murkowski, Natalie Landreth, a senior attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Alaska, reminded the Senator, "This is the same community who had wristbands with your name on them so they could remember how to spell it when they had to write it in," referring to Murkowski's 2010 run as an independent candidate. As Melissa Merrick-Brady, a Native American survivor of sexual assault, wrote, "It pains me to think that our country’s leadership might allow such a figure to ascend to the highest judicial office in this land, allowing him to opine on whether I should be protected from violence." One of Merrick-Brady's senators in North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, did vote against Kavanaugh.

The Bering Sea Elders Group issued a statement saying, in part, "Violence against our Native women and children in Alaska is not part of our culture, but is unfortunately an epidemic in Alaska...A person’s actions, beliefs, and ways of being show you who they are, and it is our way to know a person, their actions, their beliefs, and their way of being before elevating them to an important position in the community."

It wasn't just issues of sexual violence that drove the Native groups in Alaska to lobby Murkowski. Kavanaugh had issued decisions that opposed tribal sovereignty on a host of issues. The BSEG, for instance, continued their statement, saying that Kavanaugh "has demonstrated he does not understand the inherent status, rights, and roles of federally recognized Tribes and puts at risk the 229 federally
recognized Tribes in Alaska."

Kavanaugh was opposed by the Alaska Federation of Natives because of his view of the Indian Commerce Clause. He was opposed by the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska because of concerns about voting rights and tribal control of rivers. He was opposed by the the Republican governor and the Democratic (and Tlingit) lieutenant governor of Alaska because of fears of the Supreme Court gutting the Affordable Care Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act. That last fear is closer to reality since a district court struck down the law that said that Indian children without parents should be placed within their tribe.

But the movement in DC was led by Native women, who protested outside Murkowski's office and the office of Alaska's other senator, Dan Sullivan. The protesters there were arrested by Capitol police (although Sullivan denies calling them), and Sullivan proudly voted for Kavanaugh.

Murkowski, though, listened, and in her heartfelt speech from the Senate floor, she recognized the treatment of Native women in her state: "The levels of sexual assault that we see within our Native American and our Alaska Native communities, the rates are incredibly devastating. It is not something that we say we’ll get to tomorrow. We’ve heard those voices. We’ve heard those voices, and I hope that we have all learned something, that we owe it to the victims of sexual assault to do more and to do better and to do it now with them." She listened. For once. She listened to Native voices.