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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Legal Scholar Sarah Deer Wins A 'Genius' Grant
by Native Peoples Magazine
The Muscogee (Creek) professor"s efforts in advancing justice for Native women receive recognition from the MacArthur

Legal scholar and women's rights advocate Sarah Deer, Muscogee (Creek), is a winner this year of a MacArthur Foundation 'genius'grant for her work in addressing high violence rates against Native American women. But it's work the recent winner of the $625,000 award says remains unfinished.

Deer, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, was announced in September as one of 21 recipients of the grant, which recognizes contributions to society made by artists, scientists, educators, scholars innovators and many others.

"Deer's efforts were instrumental in the passage of two landmark pieces of legislation," the foundation said in announcing her as one of the fellows. Those pieces of federal legislation include the Tribal Law and Order Act signed into law in 2010 and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act passed last year.

Both acts increased the power of tribal courts in sentencing non-Native Americans for violent crimes on reservations, but still do not give tribes authority equal to states or the U.S. "Native women experience the highest rate of violent victimization in the United States," says Deer. "And one of the reasons that the rate is so high is because the legal system as its structured today does not protect Native American women.

"Tribal governments have had their power, their authority, restricted by the federal government. They're restricted in terms of the kinds of sentences they impose, and they're restricted in who they can prosecute; and what that does is it means tribes do not have the same power as a state government would have, and when you don't protect a particular group of people then predators and abusers are attracted to that population."

Deer was an author of the Amnesty International report 'Maze of Injustice'in 2007, highlighting the complicated framework of a legal system that leaves Native American women more vulnerable to violent crimes than other groups, and presented the difficult statistic that more than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetime. The report is credited with expanding the discussion surrounding violence on tribal lands and the shortfalls of the legal system in protecting Native Americans.

Deer's grant recognizes her past work and is an investment in her future efforts. She can spend as is she wishes—there are no strings attached. Click here to read Deer's interview via the blog "She The People" at

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