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Speech

Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer Delivers Welcome Remarks at Navajo Nation

Location

Window Rock, AZ
United States

Thank you for that warm welcome. I am honored to be here with leaders and members of the Navajo Nation. And I am proud to represent our Attorney General and my many Justice Department colleagues, who are working hard, every day, to strengthen our government-to-government relationship with Tribal nations.

As the Attorney General has said, the Justice Department is committed to protecting Tribal communities and affirming Tribal sovereignty. Our partnership with American Indian and Alaska Native communities is critical to that work. Through conversations with Tribal leaders like yourselves, we hear directly about the unique challenges Tribes face in protecting their communities and administering justice.

I know that today we will discuss a number of issues important to the Navajo Nation. I look forward to hearing from you all and integrating your feedback into the Department’s work. I cannot emphasize enough that discussions like these are foundational to the Department’s policy and resource decisions. There are many examples of how we have incorporated feedback from Tribal leaders into our policies and operations.

Today, however, I’d like to focus specifically on how that feedback has been instrumental in shaping the work of our three grantmaking components: the Office of Justice Programs, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and Office on Violence Against Women, or OVW. Last year, those components awarded more than $269 million to support Tribal public safety in many ways, including by enhancing Tribal justice systems and law enforcement, combatting domestic and sexual violence, and providing services for victims of crimes.

We’ve heard from Tribal leaders that these investments are paying dividends. But we’ve also been told that Tribes continue to have difficulties gaining access to DOJ funding.

I want you to know that we have listened to this feedback and are taking concrete steps to address it. I’d like to highlight three of those efforts.

First, we are working to streamline the grant application process. We’ve consistently heard that grant applications are too long and have too many requirements, which can discourage potential grantees from applying. So we’ve shortened the questions and reduced the number of application requirements and supporting documents for many of our grants.

We’ve also introduced more flexibility into the application process where possible. Beginning this year, for example, OVW will give applicants for the Tribal Governments Program the option to submit a fillable proposal narrative. The fillable form will require yes-or-no answers and text-box responses to many questions, instead of requiring Tribes to draft narratives from scratch without guidance.

Similarly, our Office of Victims of Crime has allowed Tribes to apply for the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside without submitting a narrative at all. Instead, Tribes can complete a streamlined project checklist, or simply talk with an office staffer, who can document the Tribe’s plans.

I know the Navajo Nation has applied for the Set-Aside in the past; we hope these small but significant changes will make it easier in the future to access these critical grants and funding.

Second, we’ve focused on providing additional training and technical assistance to support applicants. We know that many Tribes do not have professional grant-writers or grant administrators, and that it is time-consuming to apply for and then manage competitive grants.

To address this issue, we’ve published FAQs and training documents on our website and provided samples of successful applications. We’ve increased staffing in the Tribal divisions of our grantmaking components and extended office hours. And we’ve provided more options for support — from teleconferences and site visits to peer-to-peer training, webinars, and workshops on accessing grants.

Our goal in creating and expanding these options is to provide as many pathways as possible for applicants to get the support they need to access our grants.

Finally, we are focused on making our grants more sustainable and more predictable. We’ve extended the performance periods from three to five years for many Tribal-specific grants, like our COPS Office hiring grants, our Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside Program, and our Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction Grants Program. We also recently transformed the Tribal Victim Service Set-Aside Program into a formula grant program, so Tribes no longer have to compete for those funds.

And this year, OVW launched a new non-competitive program to reimburse Tribes for expenses related to exercising Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction. These initiatives give Tribal grantees more time to use the grant resources they are awarded and ensure that they have more certainty about the funding they will receive.

We understand that these measures have helped, and we are grateful for the ideas and input we are getting from Tribal leaders to improve the administration of our grants. But we also know that we can do more to put these essential resources into the hands of the professionals on the front lines.

That’s why we’re continuing to plan for changes that we can make in future grant cycles.

For example, we know that voluminous and varying reporting requirements impose significant burdens on Tribes and may sometimes come across as an affront to your sovereignty. So beginning next fiscal year 2025, we are reducing the number of required reports to two per year for all of our Tribal-specific programs.

And we’ve set up a working group to discuss how we can streamline reporting across programs so that Tribes can collect data in the same way for each grant. OVW is already piloting a shorter performance reporting form for its Tribal Governments Program to see if a more streamlined reporting form might be effective.

We’re also continuing to examine ways to give Tribes greater autonomy in determining how to spend grant funds. The statutes that govern our grant programs often contain rules about how funds can be used. We’re constantly exploring where we can provide Tribes more discretion within the bounds of those rules.

To give one example, we know that the ceremonial and communal preparation and sharing of food fulfill an important role in the community response to trauma. We’re considering how we can broaden the parameters for covering these costs in grants to Tribal communities.

Finally, we’re thinking creatively about potential new initiatives to address the concerns we’ve heard from Tribal communities. Last year, the Not Invisible Act Commission issued a comprehensive report on strategies for combating the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples. That report was informed in large part by the testimony of individuals with lived experience with violence or human trafficking against Indigenous peoples. One action the Commission recommended was for the federal government to fund Healing and Response Teams that can deliver Tribally led, culturally appropriate, victim-centered, and trauma-informed responses when someone goes missing.

I’m pleased to announce that just last week, OVW issued a solicitation for a special initiative to support the creation, training, and sustainability of these Healing and Response Teams. This initiative will enable OVW to gain a clear understanding of models that might work for cases related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking.

Another recommendation from the Commission’s report was to make more funding available to support the families and survivors in cases involving missing or murdered indigenous persons. The Department responded immediately by expanding the allowable uses of Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside funds to include expenses associated with supporting these cases. These initiatives are directly responsive to the Commission’s recommendations — showing again how your feedback and your voice are foundational to the work we do at the Department.

These are just some of the measures we’re taking to deliver Justice Department resources to Tribes. There are certain statutory and regulatory limits to what we can do, but we believe — and have found — that there are ways to work within those parameters to meet your most urgent needs.

We are whole-heartedly committed to continuing to work with you to explore all avenues for streamlining the Department’s grant application and funding process. Our goal is to bring more accessible, more responsive grant funding to American Indian and Alaska Native communities throughout our nation.

We have, I think, made a very strong start, and I am confident that, in the future, we will be better able to support you and other Tribes across the country in the vital work you are doing to protect your communities and bring hope and healing to the people you serve.

Thank you for sharing your time with me today. I look forward to our continued discussions.

Thank you.


Updated May 21, 2024