Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for being here. I want to start by thanking U.S. Attorney [Karen] Loeffler for her decades of outstanding service to the Department of Justice, to the people of Alaska and to all of the American people. I also want to thank President [Julie] Kitka of the Alaska Federation of Natives for that kind introduction, for her steadfast partnership and for her deep commitment to the rights and well-being of Alaska Natives across this great state.
The Department of Justice shares that commitment and we rely heavily on the ideas, insights and expertise of tribal leaders like President Kitka to advance our efforts here in Alaska. We’ve just concluded a meeting with officers of the Alaska Federation of Natives and I am pleased to say that we had an open and productive discussion about how we can continue working together to ensure that Alaska Natives enjoy the rights, liberties and protections to which they are entitled.
The department’s top priority in that undertaking is to guarantee native communities’ basic right to security by ensuring greater access to the public safety resources they need and deserve. This is an urgent concern. Our National Institute of Justice recently released a study showing that more than four in five Alaska Native women – and more than one in three native men – have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These alarming numbers are much higher than we previously understood and they are completely unacceptable in the United States of America in 2016. The Justice Department currently has about 140 active grants totaling more than $71 million supporting critical public safety-related programs and services for Alaska Natives and we will continue looking for ways to grow this assistance as we confront this serious problem.
We are also determined to protect Alaska Natives’ most basic right as American citizens – the right to vote – by ensuring that they have equal and unfettered access to the voting booth. We are using all of the tools at our disposal in pursuit of this goal, including litigation, election monitoring and enforcement of the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In fact, one of my first actions as Attorney General was to recommend legislation in Congress that would remove significant and unnecessary barriers that for too long have confronted American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to exercise their fundamental rights. In the days ahead, we will continue to speak up, to speak out and to stand with Alaska Natives to guarantee that every eligible individual can make his or her voice heard.
Finally, we intend to protect the right of the next generation of Alaska Native youths to secure the opportunities they need to succeed and to thrive. The Department of Justice has provided critical resources over the years to help build up a wide range of programs supporting native youth, including mentoring services and crisis centers. Efforts like these are a priority for the entire Obama Administration, which has taken unprecedented steps to engage and empower American Indian and Alaska Native youth through its groundbreaking Generation-I initiative. We are committed to helping every young Alaska Native grow up healthy, safe and motivated and I look forward to meeting with a group of young people later this afternoon and hearing their perspectives on the challenges that confront them and their peers.
A great deal of important work has already been done and there is much more left to do. We intend to marshal all the resources of the Department of Justice to meet the needs of Alaska Natives. But we also recognize that the most productive way – indeed, the only truly effective and appropriate way – to address issues facing Alaska Native communities is to seek solutions from native leaders and tribes themselves. And so, today, I am directing the United States Attorney’s Office here in Alaska and the Department’s Office of Tribal Justice to develop a series of focused consultations with Alaska Native leaders to discuss specific strategies to improve public safety in rural Alaska. The goal of these consultations is to identify concrete actions we can take now to address these crucial issues.
Among the topics for exploration during consultation is the viability of creating a new committee of key stakeholders – including members of the Alaska native community and governance entities, state representatives and the U.S. Attorney – that is dedicated to policy action addressing the concerns of Alaskan Natives. To be clear: the mission of this committee would not be to simply “study” public safety issues in Alaska Native villages; rather, it would be focused on identifying actionable solutions to these problems – whether in legislative proposals, grants and funding opportunities, or policy initiatives. Another topic for consultation is a proposal to create a new position within the Justice Department – Senior Counselor for Alaska Native Affairs – a career attorney, housed in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alaska, who would serve as a full-time liaison to the Alaskan Native community and who will be responsible for the comprehensive and relentless pursuit of solutions to the public safety challenges faced by Alaska Native communities. Karen Loeffler, our outstanding United States Attorney here in Alaska and Tracy Toulou, Director of the Department’s Office of Tribal Justice, will begin working to set up the consultations on these proposals and others.
I am tremendously proud of the partnerships that we have already forged and the progress that we have made. And while I am well aware that there is a considerable amount of work left to be done, I am hopeful that by maintaining an open dialogue and seeking ever-closer collaboration, we will continue to dismantle the barriers to equality and opportunity that still confront too many Alaska Native communities. Once again, I want to thank my partners in the Alaska Federation of Natives for meeting with me today and I want to pledge the ongoing support of the Department of Justice and the Obama Administration as we continue to address these vital challenges. At this time, I’ll be happy to take a few questions.