Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Tracy, for your kind introduction. I appreciate your devoted service as Director of the Office of Tribal Justice. I first met Tracy more than 20 years ago when we were young attorneys in the Criminal Division. I am grateful to the employees of the Office of Tribal Justice for everything that they do to promote public safety in Indian Country.
I also want to thank everyone throughout the Department who works to improve our relationship with tribes and to further tribal justice, as well as those who worked to create today’s event.
It is my great privilege to join you in celebrating American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
The theme for this year’s observance is, “Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience.” It encourages us to reflect on the important contributions of Native Americans and Alaska Natives to the Department, and to our nation’s economic, academic, and cultural institutions.
American Indians and Alaska Natives are an indispensable part of our national fabric. They are business owners, teachers, first responders, law enforcement offices, and community leaders. They serve with honor in our Armed Forces. And they work proudly in the Department of Justice.
President Donald Trump said last month, “Native Americans have fortified our country with their traditions and values, making tremendous contributions to every aspect of our national life. We remain committed to preserving and protecting Native American cultures, languages, and history, while ensuring prosperity and opportunity for all Native Americans.”
Consistent with the President’s words, we recognize the many contributions and sacrifices by members of this community. Today, we recommit ourselves to ensuring opportunities for all Americans. Every American enriches the quality and character of our great nation.
The Department of Justice plays a unique role in the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations.
Our U.S. Attorney’s Offices and law enforcement components, such as the FBI and the DEA, are responsible for investigations, prosecutions, and victim services in 51 judicial districts that include Indian country. Federal prosecutors exercise criminal jurisdiction over 250 distinct regions of Indian country, covering more than 55 million acres of land.
Our offices work together with Tribal law enforcement, state and local law enforcement agencies, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve the safety and security of Native American and Alaska Native communities.
The Justice Department also handles a large caseload of civil litigation in Indian country. Our civil cases include matters relating to environmental and natural resources, Tribal treaty rights, and Native Americans’ civil rights.
Our grant making components provided over $259 million to Tribes last year. Those components include the Office of Justice Programs, the Office for Victims of Crime, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Their grants support police, serve victims, combat domestic violence and sexual abuse, and strengthen tribal justice systems.
We are particularly proud of the Tribal Access Program. That effort is coordinated by the Office of Tribal Justice and the Department’s Chief Information Officer. It provides computer kiosks that allow Tribes to access federal crime databases. The kiosks allow Tribes to protect victims of domestic violence, identify sex offenders, keep guns out of criminals’ hands, and help locate missing people.
There are many success stories involving the kiosks.
Last year, the Gila River Police Department received a report about a sexual assault against a juvenile. Police quickly identified a suspect, and a warrant followed. But the suspect fled.
Using a kiosk, tribal police entered the warrant into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which we call NCIC. NCIC is a computerized index of criminal justice information. One of its most important functions is to help police apprehend fugitives.
When police encountered the suspect outside Tribal territory, an NCIC check revealed the tribal warrant. Police took the suspect into custody and transported him to the tribal jail where he was booked using a federal workstation.
Successes likes that would not be possible without the kiosk system. Since the program started in 2015, 47 participating Tribes have entered more than 600 sex offender registrations into the system. Participating Tribes also have entered arrest data that prevents criminals from purchasing firearms. And Tribes have conducted more than 4,500 fingerprint-based record checks for civil purposes, including employment.
The total number of tribes with kiosk access will expand to 114 by the end of 2019.
We are also proud of the Department’s new program to appoint Special Assistant United States Attorneys to work on Tribal issues. The initiative, funded through the Office on Violence Against Women, hires prosecutors to bring cases in both tribal and federal courts. That increases prosecution capacity and helps to prevent criminals from avoiding prosecution because of jurisdiction or sovereignty issues. It will promote the goal of ensuring that every perpetrator of domestic or sexual violence is brought to justice.
These initiatives demonstrate our Department’s steadfast commitment to improving public safety in Indian country by promoting coordination among tribal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
As part of our observance today, we are fortunate that John Tahsuda is here as a guest speaker.
Mr. Tahsuda is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Oklahoma State University, and a law degree from Cornell Law School.
Mr. Tahsuda then worked as the acting general counsel of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. He also taught classes at Cornell Law School about federal Indian law, policy, and history.
Mr. Tahsuda later served as general counsel and legislative director of the National Indian Gaming Association, where he monitored legislation and policy issues affecting the organization’s 180 member tribes and assisted with their lobbying efforts.
In 2002, Mr. Tahsuda joined the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, first as senior counsel and later as staff director. He handled policy and legislation affecting gaming, federal recognition, self-governance, and Indian health care.
From 2007 through 2017, Mr. Tahsuda worked in the private sector, providing clients with advocacy and counsel services about tribal affairs policy issues.
Last year, Mr. Tahsuda was appointed as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior. Indian Affairs manages Federal trust, treaty, and other responsibilities to 573 federally recognized Indian Tribes. Mr. Tahsuda helps to develop and interpret policies affecting Indian Affairs bureaus, offices, and programs.
He is a strong advocate for Indian country issues, and we are grateful to him for joining us today. Please welcome John Tahsuda.