WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin Cramer apologized Thursday after an advocate for Native American victims of domestic violence wrote Cramer said he felt unsafe on Indian reservations thanks to the Violence Against Women Act.
The advocate, Melissa Merrick, said Cramer told her, “as a non-Native man, I do not feel secure stepping onto the reservation now.” By “now,” Cramer meant after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.
Merrick directs Spirit Lake Victim Assistance, which offers aid to members of the Spirit Lake tribe who have been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. The Spirit Lake tribe’s reservation is located in east central North Dakota.
On Thursday, Merrick posted her version of a recent meeting between Cramer, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and the North Dakota Council on Abused women Services to the blog Last Real Indians.
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill opposed the legislation on Capitol Hill because they said provisions in the law would make non-Native men accused of assaulting women on reservation subject to the tribal legal system. Though Cramer voted for VAWA,he expressed concerns over the tribal provisions.
Merrick wrote that the discussion with Cramer grew heated. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon. Cramer’s DC office was closed for the day when BuzzFeed called.
Cramer disputed Merrick’s recollection of the meeting in an interview with the Grand Forks Herald, but apologized for how he came off in the discussion.
“We had a very frank discussion about my belief in equal protection under the law and due process,” he said. “I don’t want it overturned. I wanted to improve it so it doesn’t get overturned.
“I engaged in a discussion, or maybe I should say debate, that was probably more like a debate we’d have in Congress than with a group of people dedicated to helping women and children.
“I want to apologize to her for that,” he said.