Blog post courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Baer
Today, at the invitation of Dr. Finley, the Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), I had the honor of visiting the Flathead Indian Reservation with other federal officials, including U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter and other U.S. Attorneys who comprise the Attorney General's Advisory Subcommittee on Native American Issues.
As the group that advises the Attorney General on Native American issues, we discussed ways to strengthen the government-to-government relationship and recognized the positive impact that we have been making together.
The CSKT are but one of 567 federally recognized tribes with whom the United States shares a government-to-government relationship and a special trust responsibility. The CSKT have made significant progress on a number of fronts, including an astounding stewardship of wildlife and natural resources, a tribal college we visited today with a remarkably diversity of students and degree programs, and an innovative approach to law enforcement that both strengthens and rehabilitates community. This is a great example of how the department is working alongside tribes across the country to foster approaches that make communities safer and healthier.
Indeed, with our partners across the nation, we have made considerable progress over the last seven years since the Obama Administration made Indian Country issues a top priority. The department created a Tribal Nations Leadership Council to improve dialogue with tribal governments on issues critical to Indian Country, and we adopted a statement of principles that affirms our determination to help tribes fight crime.
On March 7, 2015, tribes gained the ability to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over certain defendants, regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status, who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian Country. As a result of tribes’ exercise of this special jurisdiction, more than 200 defendants have been charged under the Violence Against Women Act’s enhanced federal assault statutes, leading to over 160 convictions. This total includes more than 60 cases involving charges of strangulation or suffocation, which are often precursor offenses to domestic homicide.
Last summer, the department launched the initial phase of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) to provide federally-recognized tribes with access to national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes. TAP will allow tribes to more effectively serve and protect their communities by ensuring the exchange of critical data. In this phase of the program, a limited number of tribes are helping us work out the kinks and ready the program for an expanded rollout that will address the needs of a larger group of tribes through grants.
The department has also had an active presence recently in protecting Native American and Alaska Native voters through participation in litigation, through election monitoring around the country, through enforcement of the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act and through proposing and supporting legislation to protect voters. On May 21, 2015, after formal consultation with tribes, the department proposed legislation that would require states or localities whose territory includes part or all of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by the tribal government.
While the department is proud of the progress we have made working with our tribal partners, we understand that there is more we can do together.
This is precisely why I believe it is so important to highlight the efforts of tribal partners, like the Salish and Kootenai, whose commitment to reducing recidivism and promoting community safety is a holistic model of best practices for others.
With the help of a $600,000 Second Chance Act grant from the department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Salish and Kootenai started a model reentry program, which is the first of its kind in the state and is exemplary of what is possible through collaborative partnerships between tribal, federal and state agencies, culturally-appropriate problem solving and a community that is invested in addressing underlying root causes and focusing on positive outcomes and alternatives.
The department has spent this spring highlighting our efforts to improve reentry and this includes work that is being done with tribal communities:
- a historic memorandum of understanding between federal, tribal and two state agencies in North and South Dakota to collectively provide community-based, culturally specific reentry services to the Standing Rock Reservation;
- a BJA partnership with the Executive Office for U.S. Attorney’s National Indian Country Coordinator to host three regional Intergovernmental Reentry Workshops to provide tribes interested in developing reentry initiatives with guidance based on evidence-based practices; an opportunity to learn from tribes with effective programs; and an opportunity to work with state and federal counterparts;
- working with states to encourage successful re-entry by facilitating the process in which individuals obtain government-issued identification, which can be critical to accessing benefits, securing housing, employment, school registration and opening bank accounts; and
- working with tribes that are exploring ways to ensure that members who are reentering have the identification they need to lead productive lives.
While we are proud of the department’s and the administration’s efforts to engage and empower tribal communities, we appreciate that our work is never done. Later this week, the Attorney General will travel to Alaska to deepen the department’s commitment to Alaska Native issues. Attorney General Lynch will meet with tribal leaders to discuss the unique law enforcement and public safety challenges facing Alaska Native communities and she will engage with and hear directly from young people in the communities.