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Protecting the Rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives
November 15, 2011
This post is part a series highlighting the department's work with tribes in honor of American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. For more information visit justice.gov/tribal. The Civil Rights Division is responsible for enforcing federal laws that protect the rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, religion and membership in a language minority group. These federal laws prohibit discrimination in education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations, voting, state and local government services, and in certain federally-funded and conducted programs, among other areas. The division also prosecutes actions under several criminal civil rights laws designed to protect personal liberties and safety. During American Indian and Alaska Native heritage month we are proud to highlight work that has protected American Indians and Alaska Natives. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have made the prosecution of hate crimes a top priority. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (HCPA) expanded the division’s ability to prosecute violence motivated by animus toward American Indians because of their race, national origin or color. Working with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the Civil Rights Division has prosecuted civil rights crimes victimizing Native Americans through sex trafficking, hate crimes and police brutality. In United States v. Beebe, Sanford, and Hatch (PDF), three defendants pleaded guilty in June and August 2011 for their roles in a racially-motivated assault on a 22-year-old Navajo man with a developmental disability. Their indictment constituted the first time anyone had been charged with violating the HCPA. The Civil Rights Division also enforces the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act that protects the religious exercise of persons confined to institutions covered by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, including Native American religious beliefs and practices. In April 2011, the division filed a statement of interest in Limbaugh v. Thompson (PDF), challenging a requirement by the Alabama Department of Corrections that male inmates cut their hair short. The plaintiffs are adherents to Native American religious practices that mandate that hair be worn long, particularly during a time of mourning. The Civil Rights Division enforces the civil rights of Native Americans to participate in all parts of the electoral process, including voter registration, running for office, and exercising the right to vote. Last year, the division signed a memorandum of agreement (PDF) with Shannon County in South Dakota to remedy alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act. The agreement provides for a comprehensive Lakota Election Information Program to ensure that election information and materials are translated and disseminated orally in Lakota in a timely manner. It also ensures that limited-English proficient voters receive assistance in Lakota with registration and absentee voting, and that bilingual poll officials are hired and trained. Further, the agreement ensures that on Election Day each polling place has an operational voting system accessible to persons with disabilities and persons with limited English proficiency, provisional ballots and written verification information, and the required signage. The division enforces the civil rights of American Indian students to receive education free of discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion or English language proficiency. In March of 2011, the division obtained a resolution agreement with the Arizona Department of Education in which Arizona agreed to rescind its policy of mandating the use of a one-question Home Language Survey. Instead, Arizona issued a directive that requires all school districts to use a three-question Home Language Survey, which will ensure that all potential English language learner (ELL) students are identified and assessed In the wake of the nationwide housing and foreclosure crisis, the Civil Rights Division has made enforcement of fair housing and fair lending laws a top priority. The division has created a dedicated fair lending unit in the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and hired a Special Counsel for Fair Lending. The division investigates allegations of discrimination in housing sales and rentals, as well as lending and other aspects of credit by entities such as car dealerships, commercial lenders, home lenders, and credit card companies. The Civil Rights Division also has authority to challenge places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants and movie theaters, which discriminate based on race, color, religion or national origin. The Civil Rights Division will continue that all Americans are protected and able to live a life free from discrimination. For more information, please visit justice.gov/crt
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Updated April 7, 2017