BLACK VOICES
03/28/2013 07:18 pm ET | Updated Mar 29, 2013

Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Congressman, Regrets Berating Native American Counselors

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) apologized Thursday for a testy exchange with Native American victim assistance leaders. The discussion took place Tuesday at a forum on the Violence Against Women Act, which Cramer voted to reauthorize.

“We had a very frank discussion about my belief in equal protection under the law and due process,” Cramer, told the Grand Forks Herald. “I don’t want it overturned. I wanted to improve it so it doesn’t get overturned," he said of the legislation.

“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,” Cramer said.

Melissa Merrick, director of Spirit Lake Victim Assistance, wrote about the heated words with Cramer on the online media outlet Last Real Indians. "Cramer then stated that he wanted to 'ring the Tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall,'" she alleged. The North Dakota Tribal Council has come under fire for covering up endemic child sexual abuse. Spirit Lake Victim Assistance works to end violence against women.

Merrick also wrote that Cramer said he would not feel safe on a Native American reservation because VAWA's reauthorization gives Indian authorities the ability to prosecute non-natives for crimes committed on the reservation. Cramer's remarks offended listeners in the room, Merrick wrote.

Cramer disputed Merrick's characterization of the exchange to the Herald, and said that he did not call the courts "dysfunctional."

UPDATE: March 29 -- Cramer's office relayed a statement Friday morning apologizing for the incident.

I recently met with members of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services regarding the recent Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, and my passion concerning some of the problems I fear may exist with this legislation. Critics of this Act have expressed due process concerns in regard to some of its provisions. I therefore voted in favor of an amendment designed to address these problems. Unfortunately, my efforts were not supported by my Congressional colleagues. Because VAWA protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by streamlining grants, improving investigation, prosecution and victim services, as well as enhancing penalties against offenders, I voted in favor of this legislation.

I am quite open about my passion regarding helping those within our society that are exposed to violence. It is my understanding that certain statements I recently made regarding my frustrations with VAWA were misunderstood. This may have been the result of my tone and rhetoric, better suited for active debate in Congress rather than in addressing the protectors of our most vulnerable citizens. I apologize, and welcome future discussion to address my meaning, and to further our common cause.

I am encouraged by the considerable energy available to fix the serious, societal problem of violence (against all victims). It is my hope that improving lives is always our upmost focus.

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