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St. Paul professor among 2014 MacArthur 'genius grant' winners

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A St. Paul law professor is among the 21 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants."

Sarah Deer, 41, is a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and advocates for American Indian women living on reservations.

“Native Americans are the most victimized group for sexual violence and domestic violence,” Deer told the New York Times. “The treatment of native women that came with early settlement never stopped.”

These women suffer one of the highest per capita rates of domestic violence and abuse in the world, according to the MacArthur Foundation, but tribal courts are often unable to prosecute these crimes because of limited jurisdictional powers, lack of resources and limitations on sentencing authority.

Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, has used her understanding of tribal and federal law to develop policies and legislation to empower tribal nations to protect American Indian women, the foundation says. She played an instrumental role in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act by Congress in 2013, which restores some of the tribal governments' authority that was stripped from them in 1978, the MacArthur Foundation says.

The fellowship, which is based on achievement and potential and is among the most prestigious prizes for artists, scholars and professionals, comes with a stipend of $625,000 that's doled out over five years. Deer said she would use her grant money to elevate the voices of the women she's been advocating for, the New York Times notes.

This year's class of 12 men and nine women brings the total number of recipients to more than 900. Like Deer, several of this year's fellows are tackling pressing social issues, including violence against women and racial bias. Others include a cartoonist, a composer, scientists, mathematicians and historians.

Awards have been given annually since 1981. Recipients don't apply for the fellowship; instead anonymous groups make nominations and recommendations to the MacArthur Foundation's board of directors, The Associated Press notes.

On the MacArthur Foundation's website there's a look at the mobility of MacArthur Fellows. Various maps show where the fellows lived at the time the won the award compared to where they were born. For example, 2008 Fellow Walter Kitundu, born in Minnesota, was living in San Francisco when he won the award.

Not including this year's winners, the maps show that nine MacArthur Fellows were born in Minnesota, while four MacArthur Fellows lived in Minnesota at the time they won the award.

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