WASHINGTON, D.C. - Two members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation were on hand as President Barack Obama signed legislation re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday.
The act, which provides more federal funding for domestic violence programs, also gives Indian tribes the authority to prosecute non-tribal members accused of domestic violence crimes.
According to the Justice Department, one in three Native American women will become victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. Many will be abused by non-tribal members.
For years, tribes were totally dependent upon others to help them prosecute domestic violence offenders because they lacked criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members.
But that changed when the president signed the bill on Thursday.
"Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people and all women deserve the right to live free from fear," said Obama.
Two Muscogee (Creek) leaders were invited to attend a White House signing ceremony.
Cherrah Giles, who serves as Secretary of Community and Human Services for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, along with Shawn Partridge, who directs the tribes family violence prevention program, accepted the invites and say the experience was unforgettable.
"We got to shake the president and vice-president's hand today, so that was exciting," said Giles.
Both Giles and Partridge describe the legislation as a major victory for all Native Americans.
"Major progress for tribes to have the tools to hold offenders accountable," said Partridge.
"It really allows for tribal governments to exercise their right and sovereignty," added Giles.
Giles and Partridge said much more work needs to be done to curb domestic violence in Indian Country, but they say the new provisions of the law are a good start.
The law also provides additional resources and protection for members of the LGBT community, immigrants and young people who are victims of domestic violence.