The following post appears courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason
Yesterday, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the first public hearing of a new task force to examine the impact of violence on children in Indian country. Speaking to leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes, the Attorney General explained that this task force originated with the findings of his Defending Childhood Initiative, which sought ways to reduce children’s exposure to violence.
We must not accept the shameful reality that American Indians and Alaska Natives are disproportionately likely to be exposed to crime and violence – and that many who suffer exposure are children. By bringing together federal officials, tribal leaders, and local partners to focus on the unique challenges that Indian children face, this task force will enhance public safety. And these leaders will strengthen our communities by ensuring that every child can have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to thrive – free from violence and fear.
One of the Defending Childhood task force’s key findings in its December 2012 final report was that American Indian and Alaska Native children experience “extreme levels of violence.” As one tribal leader put it, “For us…the question is not who has been exposed to violence, it’s who hasn’t been exposed to violence.” Geographic isolation, jurisdictional complexities, a scarcity of resources, and a host of other challenges demand that we focus special attention on the problems facing American Indian and Alaska Native youth and those who serve them.
The new Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is anchored by both a federal working group and an advisory committee of experts. The advisory committee will hold its first hearing in Bismarck, N.D., on December 9th and will hold three additional hearings and several listening sessions in 2014 to develop a clear understanding of the scope and impact of children’s exposure to violence in tribal communities and to recommend ways to address it.
The advisory committee will be co-chaired by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah, who have long demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing violence in Indian country. They will be aided by tribal members and national experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma and child welfare and law—the best and brightest in their field. Serving without compensation, they will produce a report that will receive the highest level of attention from the Department and the Administration with the goal of developing strategies to protect American Indian and Alaska Native kids from exposure to violence for years to come.
As the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, I am confident that the task force will be successful in guiding our efforts to reduce violence and develop culturally relevant interventions. When I served as the Deputy Associate Attorney General earlier in the Administration, I had the good fortune to lead the team that developed our Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, or CTAS, a hugely successful instrument that streamlined the grant process for tribes and made all Justice Department funding more accessible to tribal applicants. The simplified process also released the creativity of tribes to fashion programs for their members that tap into strengths that are rooted in their culture and customs. And tribes are doing some truly remarkable things, from traditional healing services for crime victims, to youth programs that bring together elders and young people, to intertribal information sharing partnerships, among other efforts.
The advisory committee will submit a report by late 2014, recommending ways, both innovative and traditional, that policymakers, legislators, practitioners, and researchers at all levels can work to reduce the rates at which native children encounter violence and to intervene effectively in the lives of these young people.
The good news is that there are programs and practices out there that can reverse the damage caused by exposure to violence. It is a matter of determining the nature and the extent of the problem and tailoring those promising approaches to the unique challenges in Indian country, guided by the rich heritage of native communities’ long-standing tribal practices.
I believe that by working together, nation to nation, we can meaningfully help prevent American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence.
The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs