Thank you, John, for that very kind introduction, and to your tremendous District of Colorado team for pulling this conference together. Events like this reflect the true meaning and value of what is possible when we all join together as a community.
I would like to express my gratitude to Chairman Clement Frost and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe for allowing us to gather together in what must be one of the most majestic landscapes our country has to offer. I was struck by one part of your tribe’s seal: the feathers adorning a peace pipe, included to signify the tribe’s belief in a great spirit and in its members’ healing power as people. Healing power as people – that is what this conference is all about, our ability to support the victims of crime in our communities by helping them recover and grow stronger – by helping them heal.
I would also like to extend a warm welcome to all of the participating tribes and to the federal, state and local partners who have traveled great distances from four different directions to represent the perspectives and needs of victims and victim advocates alike. I know how valuable your time is and I truly appreciate your willingness to share it with us today.
I will be introducing the Deputy Attorney General shortly, but first, I wanted to take a moment to share a few thoughts of my own about the men and women who are participating in this conference.
Most importantly, I would like to acknowledge the work that you all do. Regardless of whether you work for or with the criminal justice system, you help bring healing and justice. Put simply – you improve lives, you save lives, you protect people. And it is through your tireless efforts that we begin to meet the comprehensive needs of victims of crime.
I recognize that there is rarely relief for the needs of the communities you live in or serve. These are time intensive jobs and you marshal the resources available in order to do the very best you can for your communities. Even more challenging is the fact that you are intervening at some of the worst moments in peoples’ lives.
I appreciate that some of you do this work because your own lives have been touched by violence. Some of you may have been victims yourselves or you may have seen friends, family or community members impacted by crime.
Yet, every day you get up and make a choice to do this work to the best of your abilities and in collaboration with the very people in this room. Your commitment, day in and day out, to making sure services are improved on behalf of victims is vital and for that I thank you.
Over the past six and a half years at the Department of Justice, I have been fortunate to see first-hand how increased engagement and understanding between the federal government and sovereign tribes can result in positive and enduring change.
In my current position as the Acting Associate Attorney General, I oversee the department’s grant programs – the Community Oriented Policing Services, the Office of Justice Programs and the Office on Violence Against Women. As you may recall, in 2010, the department developed the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation following input from tribes and those who serve them in an effort to streamline how American Indian and Alaska Native communities apply for funding opportunities. Over the past five years the department has awarded over 1,100 of these grants totaling more than $530 million going to Indian communities.
While money alone cannot fix public safety problems, including those in Indian Country, the department recognizes it is a critical part of a comprehensive solution. Providing training and financial and technical assistance is fundamental to building tribal capacity and making a meaningful difference in the lives of the communities we serve.
But there always will be more work that we could do – more lives that we could touch and improve. Providing the most effective possible services to victims of crime in Indian Country requires that we maximize our time and our resources through coordination and collaboration at the federal, tribal, state and local levels – a concept I know this audience understands very well.
We’re committed to doing our part to build those partnerships – which is why former Attorney General Eric Holder created the Tribal Nations Leadership Council in 2009 to strengthen a dialogue with tribal governments on issues critical to Indian Country. We are fortunate to have one of your own Coloradans from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Gary Hayes, serving on the Leadership Council today.
It is why last year, the Department of Justice adopted a Statement of Principles to guide and inform all of the department's interactions with federally recognized Indian tribes. Developed in consultation with the leaders of all 566 tribes, the Statement of Principles memorializes the department's determination to serve as a partner in fighting crime and enforcing the law in Indian country.
It is also why we established the Federal Victims of Crime in Indian Country Working Group earlier this year to examine ways in which federal agencies can better coordinate efforts to ensure that victims of federal crime in Indian Country receive all the rights and services to which they are entitled.
And it is why we have dramatically ramped up our commitment to training, through efforts like the National Indian Country Training Initiative, which brings cutting-edge information on criminal justice issues like child abuse, human trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence to tribal stakeholders at no cost to the tribe.
Federal and tribal prosecutors are also collaborating at unprecedented levels. One way that’s happening is by designating tribal prosecutors across the country as Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, empowering them to bring cases in federal court as well as in tribal court. This program provides an opportunity for tribal prosecutors to learn about federal law, procedure and investigative techniques.
It increases the likelihood that every viable criminal offense, especially those involving violence against women, can be prosecuted in tribal court, federal court or both. And, perhaps most importantly, it provides another way for federal investigators and prosecutors to learn from and to be informed by your knowledge, your experience, and your expertise, by fueling deeper connections between our professional communities.
Those connections are critical. We look to you as experts on what might complement and support what may be needed in the field.
If there are things that the department is doing that are not helping or that could be helping more, we are here to listen and learn. That’s what this conference is all about – the open and candid sharing of information and exchanging of ideas. We take seriously the fact that families and communities across Indian Country are counting on us. The new ideas and new approaches we hear about today will help guide us as we continue along this path forward together.
I am deeply honored to participate in this conversation.
It is now my pleasure to present the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Sally Quillian Yates.