Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta traveled to Minnesota today and met with Tribal leaders and members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The trip focused on areas – public safety, justice administration, reentry and victims’ services – where the Justice Department provides substantial grant funding to support Tribal self-governance. Associate Attorney General Gupta held government-to-government meetings with the Tribe’s leadership, heard about the Tribe’s work to respond to challenges and reinforced the Justice Department’s commitment to supporting Indian Country. She was joined throughout the trip by Director Tracy Toulou of the Justice Department’s Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ).
The Associate Attorney General’s trip to the Mille Lacs Band is the first in a series of meetings with Tribal governments on Tribal land in the coming months and is part of the Justice Department’s continued efforts to strengthen ties to Indian Country and elevate the voices and concerns of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Associate Attorney General Gupta opened the visit by remarking on the Supreme Court’s decision to reject constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act, a landmark statute that protects Indian children and families and safeguards Tribal self-governance. As Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement following the decision, the Justice Department vigorously defended the Act before the Court and will continue to do everything in its power to protect Tribal communities and affirm Tribal sovereignty.
Meetings with Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive and Tribal Leadership
Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin of the Mille Lacs Band welcomed the Associate Attorney General and convened a meeting with a number of the Band’s executive, legislative and judicial leaders. During the meeting, the Associate Attorney General learned more about the operations of the Band’s government, day-to-day challenges and exercise of sovereignty over their Homelands. Chief Executive Benjamin is the Midwest representative on the Attorney General’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council.
Associate Attorney General Gupta (right) and Chief Executive Benjamin (left)
Tour of Reservation and Government Programming
Later in the afternoon, Associate Attorney General Gupta joined a tour of the reservation, which included visits to Tribal Courts and the Band’s Police Department and Government Center. She also visited the Band’s aanjibimaadizing, a center dedicated to “changing lives” by providing social services to youth and adults. She ended her visit at the Band’s Health and Human Services Department.
Justice Department Resources to Address the Unique Needs of Indian Country
Throughout the visit, the Associate Attorney General and Tribal leadership discussed the Justice Department’s grant programs and how they assist the Band’s self-government initiatives. Through the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), the Justice Department has provided the Band resources to construct new courtrooms, recruit and retain police officers, revise the Band’s statutes and provide shelter and services for victims of domestic violence. The Justice Department has also designated a Band attorney as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney to enable the Band to more effectively prosecute serious crimes.
OTJ, among other duties, serves as a primary point of contact for Tribal governments and organizations regarding policies and programs and issues relating to public safety and justice in Indian country. In line with a whole-of-department approach, the department recently announced the hiring of 44 additional Assistant U.S. Attorneys and support staff to serve Native communities nationwide. In Minnesota alone, five new department personnel will be added to address issues arising within Indian Country.
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