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Building Safe and Healthy Communities in Montana Indian Country

June 8, 2012
The following post appears courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West This week, I was honored to be a guest of the people of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations in Montana.  I saw firsthand how the Crow and Northern Cheyenne are meeting the many challenges that face them with a spirit of resilience and commitment to community.   Like many American Indian and Alaska Native communities, both communities struggle with unacceptable rates of violence against women and children, unemployment, youth delinquency, substance abuse, and suicide. But there is also much to be hopeful for.  In my conversations with tribal leaders, law enforcement and court officials, health care workers, community advocates, youth and other tribal members this week, I was awed at the many small and large efforts underway to make these communities safer and healthier.  I was astounded at how Indians, young and old, are keeping alive ancient traditions that strengthen the bonds of family and community. Building safe and healthy communities in Indian country is a top priority for the Department of Justice.  One of the reasons for my visit was to explore ways to build on the progress we are making through an unprecedented level of collaboration and communication with tribes, through leadership at the Justice Department and the innovative work of U.S. Attorneys' Offices around the country.  In Montana, these efforts are led by U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter, whose staff is fully engaged in programs underway on Montana reservations. On Wednesday, Mike and I visited the Child and Adolescent Referral and Evaluation Center (CARE) facility at the Crow/Northern Cheyenne hospital, where children who may be victims of crime or have been exposed to violence are cared for in a safe environment that reduces trauma, provides comprehensive care, and facilitates the investigation that can bring justice and accountability where a crime has been committed. We also announced a pilot project to establish Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) on all Montana reservations.  We hope that placing SART teams on every Montana reservation will bring healing and justice to victims of sexual violence – the kind of help that will also strengthen the faith and confidence that native women have in their criminal justice system. On Thursday, we explored an array of youth programs underway at the Northern Cheyenne Boys and Girls Club, which provides a safe haven for at-risk youth, offers prevention programs to cut drop-out rates, teen pregnancy, and youth incarceration, and nurtures boys and girls with cultural activities that also keep Northern Cheyenne culture alive. It was a privilege and an inspiration to visit Montana Indian country this week, and it is my hope that we continue to learn from one another and work together on this shared journey.  We have quite a ways to go to solve some very difficult problems, but with mutual respect and unbreakable resolve, we are certainly moving in the right direction.

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