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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Summit


Washington, DC
United States

Good morning. I am very pleased to join you at this year’s Tribal Nations Summit. 

I want to thank President Biden for bringing us together today, as well as Secretary Haaland for hosting us. Secretary Haaland has been an indispensable partner to the Justice Department, and I am so grateful for her leadership. I am honored to serve alongside her.

I’m also grateful to the Tribal leaders who have traveled from near and far to attend this Summit.

I deeply appreciate this opportunity to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment to honoring and strengthening our nation-to-nation partnerships, and to working together to keep Tribal communities safe. 

And I want to reiterate the Justice Department’s intention to approach that work with respect, humility, and sincerity. 

At the Justice Department, we know that open and honest dialogue is essential to fulfilling our shared goals.

We welcome opportunities to hear directly from Tribal leaders. We also appreciate the diversity of thought and perspectives among sovereign Tribal nations.

That is why the Department takes seriously our duty to consult with Tribes, and we are committed to making those consultations as productive as possible.

This year, we held six formal consultations, including our 17th Annual Consultation on Violence Against Women. Hosted for the very first time in Alaska, this consultation has had a record number of participants and Tribal leader testimonies.

We also conducted sessions to receive feedback on improving the Department’s longstanding consultation policy. 

These discussions produced recommendations for improvement, all of which were accepted and incorporated into an updated Tribal Consultation Policy that I am proud to announce today. This marks the first update to the Consultation Policy since 2013. 

We have revised the Policy to explicitly state that consultations need not be limited to one session, or even one concentrated block of sessions. We heard from you that sometimes a more iterative process is needed, and we listened. 

We also heard feedback that Tribal leaders may wish to delegate representation for formal consultations or expand representation to include subject matter experts. We have revised the Policy to establish a process for such representations.

I am grateful to the more than 100 Tribal governments that aided our work to update the Consultation Policy. 

I am confident that these and other revisions to the Policy will lead to better consultations, to the benefit of Tribal communities everywhere.

Establishing and maintaining strong lines of communication is essential, and it is critical to our shared efforts to address disproportionate rates of violence in Tribal communities.

Native American families and communities have endured persistently high levels of violence. 

Women and girls have borne the brunt of that violence. 

And the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous People has shattered the lives of victims, their families, and entire Tribal communities.

This is unacceptable. 

The Justice Department is committed to partnering with Tribal communities, governments, courts, and law enforcement agencies to help reduce crime and support victims.

Our prosecutors and law enforcement components are an essential part of that work.

In July, the Deputy Attorney General directed every one of our U.S. Attorneys with Indian Country jurisdiction to more proactively address both existing and emerging public safety issues in those areas. 

As part of that effort, each U.S. Attorney’s Office with Indian Country jurisdiction is working to develop new updated operational plans that aim to better promote public safety in Tribal communities. 

This important work is being done alongside the ATF, DEA, FBI, and U.S. Marshals Service, as well as with state, local, Tribal, and territorial agencies. We expect the updated operational plans to be finalized by the end of this year.

Separately, and consistent with our obligations under Savanna’s Act, every U.S. Attorney’s office with Indian Country jurisdiction has developed regionally tailored guidelines specific to cases involving missing or murdered Indigenous People. 

Moving forward, these guidelines will be reviewed and updated annually to ensure that they meet the evolving needs of Tribes.

The Department also continues to break down barriers to criminal justice information that Tribes have faced for years.

We are expanding our Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information, or TAP.  This program allows Tribal governments to access, enter, and exchange data with national crime information systems, including those maintained by the FBI.

In September, we announced the selection of an additional 16 Tribes that will participate in TAP, bringing the total to 123. During this Administration, we have grown participation in TAP by 23 percent. 

And thanks to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, TAP is now a permanent, required program.

This change will not just improve coordination with law enforcement at every level – it will help keep Tribal communities safe. 

Data entered under TAP has resulted in the registration of convicted sex offenders; the entry of domestic violence-related protection orders; the identification and arrest of fugitives; and the prevention of firearm purchases, to name just a few examples.

As the Department prioritizes preventing and disrupting violence in Tribal communities, we are simultaneously working to improve the assistance that victims and witnesses receive in the aftermath of a crime.

This year, our grant-making programs – including the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office of Justice Programs, and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – announced more than $246 million in grants that will support public safety efforts in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. 

This total – an increase from the last two years – includes more than $116 million awarded through the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside Formula Program. These funds will be used to serve crime victims in almost 200 Tribes and villages. 

We also released the newest version of the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance – the first update in 10 years. 

Among other revisions, the new revisions provide additional guidance on how best to assist victims who are members of vulnerable populations. For the first time, this guideline specifically addresses victims from American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

In addition, Marlys Big Eagle, a long-time victims’ services provider in the district of South Dakota, is now serving as the Department’s first Native American Outreach Services Liaison.  

In that role, she will work to ensure that victims of crime have a voice during every step of the criminal justice process where the federal government has jurisdiction. 

The Justice Department recognizes that addressing the public safety challenges of this moment will require more than just strong partnerships with Tribes.  

It will also require greater coordination within the federal government.

We are grateful for our continued partnership with the Department of the Interior. As called for by Executive Order 14053, DOJ coordinated with DOI to develop a comprehensive strategy for preventing and responding to violence against Native Americans.

Now, we are executing that strategy. For example, just this week, the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that updates the operational agreements between these two agencies for the first time since 1993.

This MOU will strengthen information sharing processes and expand avenues for collaboration between the agencies during criminal investigations. 

The changes, which reflect Tribal feedback, will make our investigations both more efficient and more effective.

Finally, and in addition to meeting the public safety challenges facing Tribal communities, the Justice Department is ensuring that its civil rights work accounts for Tribal interests.

Protecting the civil rights of all individuals was a founding purpose of the Department. It remains an urgent priority. 

For example, earlier this Fall, the Department filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of a hotel and bar in South Dakota for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Native American customers.  

The Justice Department is working hard to make good on our commitment to improve the wellbeing of Tribal communities. In just a few minutes, you will hear even more about that from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who has been integral to our efforts to support Tribes.  

But we know that we cannot do this work without you.

As we fulfill our public safety obligations to Tribal communities, we promise to do so as partners.

This means establishing and maintaining strong lines of communication. 

This means listening to you, as leaders of your governments and representatives of your citizens. 

And it means incorporating your insights into our processes.

I am grateful for your partnership. I am humbled by your trust. And I am honored to work alongside you as we build a better future.

Thank you very much.

Indian Country Law and Justice
Updated December 1, 2022