REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET RENO
STRENGTHENING INDIAN NATIONS CONFERENCE
JANUARY 24, 1997, 12:00 p.m.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
INTRODUCTION Good afternoon. I am honored to be here today among so many professionals committed to justice for victims of crime in Indian country. I want to specially thank our host and organizer, the National Indian Justice Center, which has contributed so much to the fair administration of justice in Indian country. Many of you here today are the first response when children or adults are victimized by crime -- you are the problem-solvers and peacemakers that help communities move forward after crime shatters the life of an innocent victim. You pick up the pieces, set about healing the body, restoring peace of mind, mending the family, and bringing the abusers to justice. As Attorney General, I have listened to some of the visions that tribal leaders, service providers, and law enforcement officials share in reaching for a brighter future for crime victims, especially children, in Indian country. I am also aware of the significant challenges you must overcome to realize these visions and to increase community awareness of victims' rights. You are not alone in your efforts. We at the Justice Department will work in partnership with you to respond effectively and responsibly to Native American crime victims. When I first came to Washington to serve as Attorney General, I was concerned about losing connections to my own community in Florida. Instead, I have had the fortune to gain a number of new communities to which I feel connected: including more than 500 Indian nations, each of which is unique and has a distinct form of government, justice, culture, and tradition. In preparing to address this conference, I thought about the meaningful lessons that I have learned from Indian tribes. Tribal communities share many positive qualities that all of America ought to devote more time to learning about, appreciating, and respecting. For example, I have learned a tremendous amount from Indian people about traditional dispute resolution. At the Tribal Courts Symposium at Harvard Law School in December 1995, I, along with tribal, state, and federal judges, learned from Chief Justice Yazzie of the Navajo Nation the significance of the circle in traditional justice, symbolizing community and wholeness. The circle of justice connects everyone involved in a problem or conflict and focuses them on attaining peace and harmony through resolution. The circle represents the entire process, from disclosure of problems, to discussion and resolution, to making amends and restoring personal and communal relationships. According to certain tribal cultures, the purpose of the justice system is to restore harmony. The victim, therefore, is the focal point of the process and the goal is to heal and renew the victim's physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. These tribal traditions may involve the use of ritual and a cleansing process for the victim, as well as the offender, and their families to regain mental, spiritual, and emotional stability. In addition to assuring safety and harmony in Indian country, traditional mechanisms for dispute resolution offer fruitful alternatives to litigation for federal and state courts to consider. Community-based peacemaking according to tribal tradition seeks to resolve problems instead of processing cases in lengthy adversarial proceedings. As we gain familiarity with tribal concepts of traditional justice and community, they will surely enrich the administration of justice in America. Another integral concept in community justice is the concept of family. In many tribal cultures, families are expansive, placing a high value on kinship and relations well beyond the nuclear family. In many tribal communities, both parents and the extended family are expected to nurture, supervise, and discipline their children. Accordingly, the Department of Justice recognizes the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act to the preservation of Indian families and tribal self-government. When tribal leaders alerted us that proposed amendments to the Act might undermine the right of Indian tribes to determine their membership and interfere with the jurisdiction of tribal courts to adjudicate custody of Indian children, the Department of Justice joined the Department of Interior in opposition to the proposals. We later supported consensus proposals developed by Indian tribes and testified this past June before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to make our support known.
OFFICE FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME For too long, the criminal justice system has failed to treat crime victims with the dignity, fairness, and respect they deserve. The Department of Justice supports a community-based approach to victims services in Indian country which is respectful of tribal notions of community, family, and peaceful conflict resolution. The Department's Office for Victims of Crime, now under the leadership of Director Aileen Adams, has worked hard to build a network of victim assistance programs in Indian communities. We provide training and informational materials for tribal advocates to assist crime victims to understand tribal and federal criminal justice systems, be aware of their rights, and take advantage of available services. In 1988, the Office for Victims of Crime sponsored the first Strengthening Indian Nations Conference. Some two hundred people attended. And today? Look around you and see how the community of those who care about crime victims has grown to include so many. [500-600 participants] This is in part due to the Department's training and advocacy programs, which emphasize a multi-disciplinary approach to aiding crime victims. Investigators, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, members of the judicial branch, health professionals, and victim-witness coordinators must all work together to respond to victims of crime. The purpose of that first conference, and those since then, is to bring together service providers from various communities in Indian country to provide training and increase assistance to Native American victims of crime. In 1988, OVC made its first awards under the Victim Assistance in Indian Country Program, a discretionary grant program intended to aid tribes in establishing and improving services to Native American crime victims. When OVC first focused resources in Indian country, the Hopi and Navajo tribes in Arizona were grappling with the devastating effects of multiple-victim child sexual abuse cases within their communities. OVC's experience with Hopi and Navajo revealed a pressing need for emergency services for child victims of crime. In both cases, trusted school officials exploited their access to young children and systematically sexually abused dozens, indeed hundreds, of children over several years. Sadly, several of the sexually abused children are now abusers themselves, perpetuating a destructive cycle of pain. The cooperation between Indian tribes and OVC begun during this crisis now flourishes In the years since the first Conference, funding through the Victim Assistance in Indian Country Program has significantly increased. OVC now supports 52 programs in 19 different states. For fiscal year 1997, Director Aileen Adams has taken an important step to remove some barriers to the delivery of tribal victims' services. Consistent with a government-to-government relationship, tribes will be able to apply for direct grants in lieu of state pass-through subgrants. Victim Assistance in Indian Country programs offer many services similar to those provided through regular state programs while taking into account cultural dynamics and the constraints encountered by tribes in meeting the physical, mental, and emotional needs of their members. For instance, along with counseling, some programs offer bilingual services to ensure that native-speaking populations receive meaningful assistance. To ensure that victims have access and transportation to the court system, tribal legal advocates will often travel to geographically remote reservation communities to accompany victims to judicial proceedings. Each year, millions of dollars are deposited into the Crime Victims Fund from criminal fines and penalties paid by offenders convicted of federal crimes. OVC also uses a portion of this money to assist victims in Indian country. For instance: a thirteen-year-old Navajo girl was sexually assaulted by a relative. Crime Victims Fund dollars were available to pay for a traditional healing ceremony performed by a medicine man. In North Dakota, a four-year-old victim of child sexual abuse was aided by the Crime Victims Fund when it paid for her physical examination and psychological counseling. Since 1989, under the Children's Justice Act Grant Program for Native Americans, OVC has awarded over $5 million to 40 tribes. This program assists tribes to improve the handling of child physical and sexual abuse cases, particularly with respect to investigation and prosecution. $1.5 million is made available each year to support a number of activities, including training for multidisciplinary teams, revision of tribal codes, advocacy services for children involved in tribal court proceedings, and development of protocols for reporting, investigating, and prosecuting child sexual abuse cases. OVC also funds a number of training initiatives to improve tribal and federal responsiveness to crime and crime victims. Since 1992, it has supported training conferences hosted by U.S. Attorney's offices to train tribal and federal personnel to cooperate and work in partnership to meet the needs of crime victims. One of these 1996 training sessions, the children's Justice Conference, was held in conjunction with the Great Plains Indian Nations Conference, where I joined tribal leaders for a day of listening and discussion about tribal government priorities, including law enforcement and tribal courts.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND YOUTH VIOLENCE This Sixth Strengthening Indian Nations Conference will allow us to focus on the pressing victims issues of the day. I commend you all for taking on the issues of violence against women, elder abuse, gang violence, and juvenile crime. Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, the Department has rigorously pursued a coordinated approach to address the special needs of women victims. By committing new federal resources and focusing attention on violence against women, the Department aims to send the message that violence against women, including Indian women, must be stopped. The Department of Justice will award $5.8 million in 1997 through the Stop Violence Against Indian Women program. This will supplement the $5.2 million awarded to 68 tribal grantees in 1996. Thirteen tribes will receive an additional $3 million dollars to encourage arrest of domestic violence offenders. To help bridge the long distances which keep women in rural areas far from assistance, 4 tribes will share about $300,000 dollars through a special rural grants program. I am deeply concerned by statistics which show that children are increasingly being victimized by other young people. Broken families are fertile ground for a growing number of youth more prone to engage in behavior destructive to themselves and to those around them. The presence of gangs on Indian reservations has contributed to rising rates of youth violence and delinquency. Gangs gain influence by filling the void left when family institutions weaken and break, due to neglect or abuse. Tribal communities and U.S. Attorney's offices are grappling with a dramatic increase in the number of Indian juveniles referred for federal prosecution. This nation must resolve to improve the criminal justice system's treatment of juveniles. Working in federal-tribal partnership, we must ensure that law enforcement responds swiftly and effectively when young people act in defiance of tribal and federal laws. More importantly, federal, tribal, and local governments must devote energy and resources to support and guide young people towards a life free of misconduct. Through the U.S. Attorneys' offices, the Department is committed to enhancing the capacity of tribes to confront youth violence and delinquency in Indian tribal communities. I am eager to hear what was learned at the Gang Violence focus group that OVC facilitated here just days ago. I understand that U.S. Attorney Karen Schreier, Deputy Director Mark Van Norman of the Office of Tribal Justice, Ada Pecos Melton, and the other participants are working to develop a tribal action plan to address gang violence. In 1997, let us re-focus on juvenile justice issues with an innovative, creative, and caring eye.
PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIAN TRIBES Working together to address challenges is crucial, and over the past several years, this Administration has begun to build a partnership with Indian tribes. President Clinton has laid the foundation for our work with Indian nations through two simple, basic principles--honor and respect. First, the President directed all Departments and agencies to honor the principles of government to government relations in our work with Indian nations, Second, the President directed the Executive Branch to conduct those relations on the basis of respect for tribal self-government and the trust responsibility. Working in partnership requires communication among partners. In the past several years, we have vastly improved communication between the Department and tribal governments through national and regional listening conferences and other gatherings such as the one today. What I heard from tribal leaders at the first National Listening Conference in April 1994 led me to institute a number of initiatives at the Justice Department. First, tribal leaders conveyed their frustration at the lack of a central office where they could voice concerns to the Department. In response, I created the Office of Tribal Justice to serve as a permanent channel of government-to-government communication with tribal governments and to coordinate the Department's policy towards Indian tribes. The new Director of the Office of Tribal Justice is Tom Le Claire, a member of the Mohawk Nation and former Assistant U.S. Attorney from Arizona. I believe that Tom's extensive experience as a prosecutor and insight and knowledge regarding Indian tribes will enhance the Department's ability to respond to tribal issues. The Office of Tribal Justice exists to hear your concerns, to field your questions, and to take action regarding the issues that confront Indian tribes. At the Listening Conference, tribal leaders also expressed major concern regarding tribal justice systems as institutions of self-government. In response, I created the Tribal Courts Project within the Office of Policy Development to strengthen and develop tribal justice systems and to defend the exercise of tribal self-government through tribal justice systems. Our Tribal Courts Project, administered by Soo Song, has entered into partnership with 45 tribal governments to promote innovative training programs and provide technical assistance that respects the unique traditions and values reflected in tribal justice systems. The Tribal Courts Project also encourages cooperation between federal, tribal and state court judges by fostering open dialogue among the court systems. We have worked with the 9th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals and with the Conference of State Chief Justices to develop such a dialogue. To focus our tribal courts efforts on victims of crime, the Tribal Courts Project and the Office for Victims of Crime worked with the Federal Judicial Center to develop a much-needed joint training program for federal and tribal judges on the adjudication of child sexual abuse cases in Indian country. This joint training provided education to the judges who attended the first of its kind training, but also provided an opportunity for enhanced cooperation between federal and tribal courts in dealing with sexual abuse in Indian country.
LAW ENFORCEMENT The trust relationship with Indian tribes also bears on the Department's role in keeping peace and maintaining law and order in Indian country. Underscoring the trust responsibility, the challenges presented in the quality of life for many on the reservation obligate the Department of Justice to devote special attention and energy to restoring peace and serving crime victims. It is twice as likely that reported crime in Indian country will be violent, yet there are only one half as many officers per capita in Indian country. This is complicated by the geographic remoteness of many communities and the large territory that one officer may have responsibility over -- often alone, without backup, and without sophisticated equipment. I am committed to exploring ways to do better and to do more to provide adequate federal and tribal law enforcement response and presence in Indian communities. We at the Department know that crime exacts a tremendous toll on the entire country and that Indian tribes pay especially high costs in terms of lives broken and dollars lost. Cuts in the BIA budget have been devastating to many tribal law enforcement agencies. While the Department does not have funding to replace these programs, we have been working together with tribal courts, law enforcement, and tribal leadership to address the most critical law enforcement problems. For example, the Community Oriented Policing Service Office or "COPS" has awarded over $22.4 million to 128 Indian tribes to enhance reservation law enforcement. Many tribes have asked whether we can do more. I assert that we can and must do more to prevent family violence and child physical and sexual abuse and to bring offenders to justice. Among the options I have discussed with Secretary Babbitt of Interior, is to assess the feasibility of an Indian Country Investigative Service within the Department of Justice. In July of 1996, the Office of Tribal Justice sought feedback from every federally recognized tribe on the prospect of shifting criminal investigation and tribal courts responsibilities to the Department of Justice. We need continued input from Indian tribes as we examine the options for making this happen. Through whichever agency, the federal government must get the job done to enforce laws on Indian lands where there is federal jurisdiction and responsibility to do so. CONCLUSION I have been told that according to traditional notions of justice, a leader is someone whom people recognize for courage and strength. A leader is someone who speaks clearly and honestly, who demonstrates wisdom and spirituality, and who is recognized as having the ability to gently guide. I believe that I am here today in the presence of hundreds of community leaders. What a powerful collection of energy, creativity, and determination we have assembled. As peacemakers and healers, I urge you to carry this energy back to your communities and families. Have courage, in the face of significant challenges, to assert your dedication to positive change. Remember, too, that you are not alone in this challenge: working together we can strive for brighter, safer, communities and families for our nation's children.