During his address to more than 500 attendees of the National Congress of American Indians’ (NCAI) 2009 Mid-Year Conference today, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli announced the launch of a new major Justice Department initiative to increase engagement, coordination and action on tribal justice in Indian Country. NCAI provides national leadership on issues facing tribal communities throughout the United States.
Perrelli announced that later this year, Attorney General Eric Holder will convene a Tribal Nations Listening Conference to confer with tribal leaders on how to address the chronic problems of public safety in Indian Country and other important issues affecting tribal communities. Leading up to the Listening Conference, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden and Perrelli will convene a series of regional summits to seek tribal representatives’ input in setting the agenda. Those planning sessions will include Department component leaders, tribal leaders and experts in relevant areas to begin a dialogue on a range of important issues including, law enforcement policy and personnel; communications and consultation; grants and technical assistance; detention facilities; federal prosecution in Indian country; tribal court development; domestic violence; drug courts and substance abuse; federal litigation involving tribes; and civil rights. No locations or dates have been announced.
"To improve Indian Country law enforcement, we must act as real partners with those who know the issue best. We need to hear, and heed, your voices. It has been too long since that happened," said Perrelli. "A Listening Conference is an important step, but it is only going to change the way we do business if we come out of it with concrete, specific proposals and take action."
In 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno convened the only other National Listening Conference, sponsored jointly with the Department of the Interior, which led to numerous initiatives, including major funding for tribal police, jails and courts.
Perrelli also addressed the need for greater communication and partnership between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, saying, "Tribal communities are facing great challenges, but also have enormous opportunities. And while we at the Department of Justice have some resources that can help make your communities safer, we also know that it takes more than resources to fight and prevent crime. It takes real partnerships. At the Department, we are committed to more effectively partnering with tribal communities to improve public safety and the health of Indian Country."
He noted that the Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has provided more than $330 million in assistance to law enforcement agencies in Indian Country to date, with nearly $240 million of this awarded through the Tribal Resources Grant Program to improve tribal law enforcement infrastructure by providing critical resources, training, technical assistance, and other support necessary. Perrelli noted, with an emphasis on the impact that violence against women continues to have in Indian Country, that the Office on Violence Against Women has also awarded more than $86 million to grant projects reaching nearly half of the nation’s 562 Indian Tribes.
Of the $4 billion provided to the Justice Department to assist tribal, state and local law enforcement and criminal justice systems in the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), Perrelli explained that Indian country will receive at least $248 million to fund four important grants specific to tribes:
Tribal communities are also eligible for additional funds through discretionary Recovery Act grants.