Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you all for joining us today. Joining me on stage are Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, the United States Attorney for Minnesota Todd Jones, and three representatives from the Native American community: Theresa Pouley of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Zackeree Kelin of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, and Ted Quasula of the Hualapai Tribe.
As many of you know, we have just completed the Department of Justice’s Tribal Nations Listening Session, which was the beginning of a government-to-government dialogue between Tribal Nations and the Department.
This has been a priority for me – not just because the crime statistics in Indian Country are staggering, but because tribal communities touch nearly every aspect of the Department. In fact, nearly 100 Department of Justice officials representing more than 20 different components have joined us in St. Paul, to listen and engage in discussions about concrete proposals that we can take back to Washington to implement.
We have two goals for our work in Indian Country. One is to find immediate solutions to bring down the crime rates, including homicide, drugs, and violence against children and women, and to put policies in place to help tribal communities make a difference for themselves. The other is to develop long term answers to the problems facing tribal communities.
It is simply impossible to exaggerate the severity of this issue. Based on data reported by tribes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, we’ve seen violent crime rates in some parts of Indian Country that are two, four, and sometimes over ten times the national average.
Some tribal land counties have rates of murder against women that are more than 10 times the national average. Congressional findings show that 1 out of every 3 American Indian or Alaska Native women is raped in her lifetime, and that Native American women experience the violent crime of battering at a rate of 23.2 per 1,000, compared with 8 per 1,000 among Caucasian women.
This situation is completely unacceptable to me – both as the Attorney General, and as an American. We cannot afford to wait another minute to address it. We already know what violent crime, substance abuse, and a lack of resources for law enforcement is doing to tribal communities. And yet for everything that we’ve learned, we are still far behind where we should be – not only in funding and staff, but in infrastructure and procedures to ensure consistency and longevity.
I was incredibly impressed by some of the initiatives that were proposed today. Tribal leaders have given significant thought to the problems that dominate Indian Country. But they are tired of talking – they now want to see action. And from this Listening Conference I have come away with a set of realistic, specific, and concrete concepts for initiatives we will begin rolling out as soon as possible.
And while I came here to listen, I also have a few announcements that I shared with the more than 400 tribal leaders and representatives who joined us. I am creating a Tribal Nations Leadership Council to advise me on matters critical to Indian Country. The Council will meet twice a year and will help continue the dialogue between the Department and tribal governments. Representatives on the Leadership Council will include one tribal leader from each of the 12 regions identified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and will be selected by their regional peers.
I will make several visits to tribal communities over the next year and beyond. I want us to keep working together as we take action on many of the proposals laid out today.
We have already started accelerating resources to affected communities. This year alone the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Office of Justice Programs have distributed more than $397.4 million through more than 25 grant programs to tribal communities. These resources by themselves are not the answer, but they can help us address one critical piece of the puzzle.
We will also continue to work with Congress to pass important legislation such as the Tribal Law and Order Act, which takes a significant step forward in enhancing public safety in tribal communities, and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, where we can turn the spotlight on violence against women and children in tribal communities. And last but not least, we will work to ensure that tribal youth are included as a priority as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
The truth is that justice in Indian Country will not be solved by a single grant, a sole piece of legislation, or any other quick fix. These problems are deep-seated, and they will require a multitude of approaches and a sustained commitment from law enforcement, from tribal leadership and from the inhabitants themselves of the tribal communities.
None of us can solve this crisis alone. But I believe the cooperation and coordination that we started here today is the first step in bringing some relief to these communities that are so affected by violence. By working together, by using every tool at our disposal, by facing up to hard truths and by refusing to ever back down or give up, we can make a real difference – and we will.