Not Invisible Act Commission Transmits Recommendations to Federal Government to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples and Human Trafficking
Remarks as Delivered
Thank you, Senator Murkowski, for the warm welcome to Alaska, for including me in this conversation, and for your leadership on these issues for so many years.
I am grateful for the opportunity to sit down with this group of leaders today.
I am joined today by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, Lane Tucker, the Director of the Office of Tribal Justice at the Department of Justice, Tracy Toulou, and the General Counsel of our Office on Violence Against Women, Jennifer Kaplan.
Yesterday, I met with our United States Attorney staff here in Anchorage to discuss the public safety challenges they are seeing on the ground and in communities all across Alaska.
As the Senator just said, today, I planned to visit the Alaska Native Villages of Huslia and Galena. I only made it to Galena. I will say it did impress upon me in ways that just reading about it would not have. We had a United States Marshals plane. We had a United States Air Force plane. And still, with the weather, we weren’t able to get there. I can’t imagine what would happen in the circumstance if there was an emergency in one of the villages without roads, how hard it would be to get there.
If even the Attorney General of the United States can’t get there, I can’t imagine law enforcement or medical could get there without enormous delay of time, and that’s just really not acceptable. But we were lucky, and it was kind of the folks were going to meet us in Huslia to come to Galena with us.
There, we had good conversations about the difficulty of access to law enforcement resources. It is one thing to read about this, the problems that the Native villages have in Alaska. It’s another thing to hear somebody in Anchorage tell us about that. It’s quite another for those already facing the problems directly in person to be able to have an interchange and discuss the problems, to ask questions, and to get answers. This is not something I could do in Washington and not something I do every day. So, I am very grateful for this opportunity.
The Justice Department recognizes that Alaska Native families and communities have endured persistently high levels of violence and that women and girls have borne the brunt of that violence.
We are here today to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment to working across the federal government and with the Alaska Native communities to meet these urgent challenges.
I want to spend my time today listening to your ideas and addressing any questions that you have. Before I do, I want to briefly share a few updates on the Justice Department’s work.
First, I am pleased to announce that the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime – we all it OVC – will be awarding almost $70 million in grant funding this fall to support services for American Indian and Alaska Native victims of crime.
These awards will fund a range of services for crime victims in more than 200 Tribal communities. And almost $22 million of that funding will go to 67 Tribal communities here in Alaska.
OVC’s Tribal Division has worked closely with Tribal leaders and Tribal advocates to make sure that this program is as responsive as possible to the needs of Tribal communities, not imposed by Washington, but responsive to the needs that you have told us.
As part of the application process, Justice Department grant managers spent 32 days here in Alaska meeting with more than two dozen Alaska Native Village grant applicants.
Second, the Department is continuing to implement the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, 2022.
Again, I want to express my gratitude to Senator Murkowski for her leadership in the passage of that law, and for her commitment to enhancing public safety in Alaska Native villages. I am grateful to have her as a partner in this work.
As you know, VAWA 2022 created an Alaska Pilot Program to enable Alaska Tribes to exercise Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit certain crimes in the Tribes’ villages.
The Justice Department has been working closely with Alaska Native communities to develop a proposed framework for the pilot program. We recently shared that framework with Tribal leaders and advocates at the Tribal consultation in Tulsa.
This framework, which we will discuss amongst ourselves today, responds to the Tribes’ needs for technical assistance and funding to support their efforts to exercise jurisdiction.
Earlier this month, the Department announced that it is awarding the Alaska Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction Technical Assistance grant to the Alaska Native Justice Center. The Center will partner with RurAL CAP, the University of Alaska, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. We are excited to be able to draw on the expertise of Alaska-based organizations to help Alaska Native communities build the capacity of their own justice systems.
Third, the Justice Department is continuing to work in partnership with Tribal communities to address the crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People.
That includes our work together with Secretary of the Interior Halaand and the Department of the Interior to support the Not Invisible Act Commission. Tracy [Toulou] is the co-chair. And three of the Alaska-based members of the Commission are also here with us today. I thank you all, Tami Jerue, Vivian Korthuis, and Michelle Demmert.
Earlier this summer, the Department also launched a Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Regional Outreach Program. This program places attorneys and coordinators at U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the United States to help prevent and respond to missing or murdered Indigenous people. Ingrid Cumberlidge, who is serving as a coordinator on these issues here in Alaska, is with us today.
As I said, I am here in Alaska today to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment to work with Alaska Native Tribes as our partners and in recognition of their inherent sovereignty.
But, most important, I am here to listen.
Thank you, Senator Murkowski, for your partnership. And thanks to all of you for coming today. I’d like to spend the rest of the time listening to your problems and answering your questions about the work we can do to solve your problems.