Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the
Justice Department’s American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month Event
Washington, D.C. ~ Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Thank you, Tracy, for that kind introduction.
I am so pleased to be here with you all at the Department ’ s annual celebration of the important heritage of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
One of the unique privileges I have as Acting Associate Attorney General is working with Tracy, his office, and other Department components on matters that are important to the American Indian and Alaska Native communities. I think there's little doubt that over the last four years, the President, the Attorney General and this Department have placed high importance on improving tribal justice and public safety in Indian country.
We've seen that commitment manifest in policy priorities; in law enforcement efforts; in renewed efforts at consultation and collaboration; and in turning the page on difficult chapters in the nation-to-nation relationship between Native Americans and the federal government, with the resolution of cases like Keepseagle, the Tribal Trust cases, and Cobell, which just became final this week.
For me, this commitment has meant four extended trips to Indian Country – two in the last five months – and a fifth I'll take next week when I travel to the Indian Nations Conference in Agua Caliente.
These journeys have taken me to the Navajo Nation, where I worked to improve outreach to Navajo uranium mine workers and their families so they could more easily access funds to which they were entitled under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act; to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations in Montana where we launched innovative efforts to improve our response to sexual assault in Indian Country--something we must continue to be vigilant about as Native women face some of the highest rates of sexual assault in this country; to Colorado where I toured a Southern Ute Montessori school and visited the sovereign tribal court of the Ute Mountain Ute; and to New Mexico, where I met with leaders of the Pueblo of the Laguna, and walked the centuries-old pathways of Sky City in the Acoma Pueblo, with residents whose families have lived atop that mesa for nearly a thousand years.
For me, these visits to Indian country are a great privilege. They are a great privilege because they remind me of the rich legacy that First Americans have bestowed upon this country, and that we are a stronger America because of that legacy.
They remind me of the important trust relationship between the United States and tribal nations, and that the struggle for tribal sovereignty and self-determination has too often been waged in the face of disruption and devastation caused by assimilation and termination policies pursued in the not-so-distant past.
They remind me of the Code Talkers, the Cold War Warriors, and the other Native American men and women who proudly wore the uniform and whose continued service today helps secure the freedoms we enjoy here, at this moment and in this place.
And they remind me that, as important as is our shared history, so too is our common destiny: a destiny that is left in our hands to shape, to mold, to build, to create.
It is now my pleasure to introduce someone who has also traveled many miles in Indian country and who helps to make real our commitment when it comes to strengthening our nation-to-nation relationships, ladies and gentlemen my colleague and friend, Deputy Attorney General James Cole.