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Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the Tribal Nations Listening Session
ST. PAUL, MINN. ~ Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

I’d like to thank all of you for taking the time and energy to participate in this Listening Session. The perspectives and proposals you presented today reflect your hard work and dedication. Those of us from the Department of Justice have a lot to think about, and I’m grateful for that.

I’d like to extend special thanks to the tribal leaders and representatives who traveled great distances and dedicated two days to this Listening Session. I know how valuable your time is and I truly appreciate your willingness to share it with us. I would also like to thank my colleagues from the Department of Justice who are here today. And I’d like to single out Tracy Toulou, Director of the Office on Tribal Justice, both for his hard work helping to organize the Listening Session and for moderating our conversation today. Thank you, Tracy.

I also want to thank our federal partners for their participation. I am grateful that representatives from the Departments of Interior, Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development could join us here. It’s critical that we work together across the federal government to confront issues of public safety in Indian Country. We cannot retreat to our respective agencies and work in isolation. Accordingly, you have my commitment that the leadership of the Department of Justice will work with our counterparts in other agencies to ensure that the proposals we discussed today are considered at the highest levels. We must put the lives and the livelihoods of tribal communities ahead of bureaucracy.

Our commitment to open, frank communication among our governments will not end this evening. There will be additional opportunities for us to speak – and to listen – to one another in the months and years ahead. But make no mistake: the time has come for us to act, for us to develop enduring solutions to the public safety challenges we face. Families and communities across Indian Country are counting on us. Your proposals will guide us as we find the way forward together. And as I said earlier today, this Justice Department’s policies will reflect the principles of tribal sovereignty and Indian self-determination – today, tomorrow, and always.

In the short-term, we need to better coordinate federal efforts so that you receive the resources you need as part of our trust obligation. But we also need to look at long-term solutions and programs. You know best what policies and enforcement strategies will work in your own tribal communities, but you need the resources to implement them. We must learn from the lessons of the past as we make decisions about how to allocate the resources we have now, and the resources we will continue to fight for in the future.

Many of you here have worked over the past decade to maintain a dialogue with the Department of Justice, and your contributions over the last two days have been invaluable. This includes the Tribal Justice Advisory Group, the Section 904 Task Force on Violence Against Women in Indian Country, and the tribal law enforcement experts who have been at the table with the Deputy and Associate Attorneys General leading up to this event.

Will those representatives please stand now and be recognized?

I know that you have been working hard to help the Justice Department understand and address the needs of tribal communities for a long time. We are here today in large part because of your contributions, and I thank you. We in the Department of Justice must continue to listen, and to learn, from our partners in tribal governments. The following steps will, I think, strengthen our existing relationship and make our dialogue even more productive.

First, to ensure that we continue the progress we made today, I am announcing the creation of a Tribal Nations Leadership Council. The Council will meet twice a year, and will help coordinate efforts between the Justice Department and tribal governments. The members of the Leadership Council will be chosen by the tribes. Specifically, one tribal leader will be selected by his or her regional peers from each of the 12 regions identified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Second, to ensure that the Justice Department’s senior officials continue to develop first-hand experience with the challenges facing Indian Country, I am announcing my intention to visit several tribal communities during the next year and beyond. As I said earlier, this Listening Session is the beginning. Our dialogue will not end when we leave here this evening, and your continued input will be critical as we work together in the months and years ahead.

We know one thing already. Money alone cannot fix the public safety problems in Indian Country. In many cases, the federal government hasn’t done an effective job with the money it’s had. This is one reason why coordination across the federal government will be so important.

But while money alone isn’t the answer, adequate financial resources are a critical part of a comprehensive solution. We are determined to fight for additional funding for tribal justice initiatives – this year, next year, and in the years to come. I’m pleased to announce that the Department’s grant components – the Community Oriented Policing Services Office, known as COPS, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Office of Justice Programs – have distributed available funds from both our fiscal year 2009 accounts and our Recovery Act dollars to provide almost $400 million to tribal communities through more than 25 grant programs.

This funding means more than $29 million in funding to hire 87 new tribal law enforcement officers, to purchase crime-fighting technology systems and basic equipment, and to secure training and technical assistance.

This funding means almost $71 million to build the capacity to combat violent crimes against Native women and to enhance victim safety and prevention strategies for tribal governments and tribal nonprofit organizations.

This funding also means more than $295 million to support critical needs, including resources to:

  • construct and renovate correction facilities and tribal courts;
  • create sex offender registries to protect children from predators;
  • address the impact of alcohol abuse and substance abuse on tribal communities;
  • improve tribal juvenile-justice systems, including prevention and mental health services; and,
  • comprehensively address infrastructure needs to create safer communities.

I don’t have to tell you how significant this funding is. But alone, it isn’t enough. We must also consider using memoranda of understanding between federal agencies where they could make a difference. And we must explore opportunities for legislative solutions when we must.

We know, for example, that the Violence Against Women Act is scheduled to be reauthorized next year. We have an opportunity not just to adapt the legislation to match the needs of tribal communities, but also to ensure increased funding to combat violence against women and children in tribal communities.

We’re working closely with Congress to pass the Tribal Law and Order Act. I know that many of you are also working to ensure the passage of this important legislation. The Justice Department fully supports the bill and we look forward to the day that President Obama signs it into law.

With or without this legislation, we must act now to protect youth in Indian Country. Violence against children doesn’t just impact the child, or the child’s family. It devastates entire communities, because it leads to so many other forms of violence. When children witness or experience violence in the home, it affects how they feel, how they act, and how they learn. Without intervention, children who are exposed to violence are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization, and, perhaps most tragically, committing violence later in their own lives.

As a father of three children, I recognize that change has to come from within families as well. We all need to be role models for our children so that they have the best chance of living in families and communities free from violence. Let me be clear- there is no excuse, NONE, to allow violence to be a part of our children’s lives wherever they live. And no woman, wherever she lives, should ever be a victim of violence. We must work together to eradicate these twin plagues.

The public safety challenges we face in Indian Country will not be solved by a single grant, or a single piece of legislation. There is no quick fix. We need to continue listening to you and to your proposals. We need to continue learning about the particular challenges you face in your communities and about your ideas to address those challenges. In short, we need to keep working together to identify solutions and to implement them.

We must be open to new ideas and new approaches. We must learn from each other what has worked – and what has not. We must acknowledge the cultural diversity among tribal communities and embrace the challenge of providing services that are culturally and linguistically tailored. We must dare to think differently.

I am grateful that so many of you took the time to share your experiences and your ideas with me. I – and my colleagues in the Justice Department – learned a great deal from you today. As we prepare to conclude this Listening Session, let us resolve to continue our communication, and our collaboration. The immediate task is to transform proposals into policy, ideas into implementation.

Although the challenges we face are daunting, do not doubt our capacity to address them. Always remember that man made problems are susceptible to man made solutions. And do not doubt our commitment to see this job done. Alone, none of us can solve the public safety crisis occurring in our nation’s tribal communities. But if we work together, if we use every tool at our disposal and refuse to back down or give up, if we are prepared to ask ourselves hard questions and face difficult truths, we can make a real difference in the lives of everyone. This is my aim. This is my pledge to you.

Thank you.

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