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Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at the National Congress of American Indians


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good Morning. I want to thank President Keel and all of the Tribal leaders and representatives who are here today. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.  

The Department of Justice plays a unique role in the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations. Our work in Indian country covers a massive legal landscape and involves almost every function of our Department. 

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 the 49 judicial districts across the nation that include Indian country. Federal prosecutors have primary criminal jurisdiction for 70 million acres of Indian lands. That spans 200 Indian country territories. 

The Department also has concurrent jurisdiction over 50 additional areas of land. 

Our law enforcement work requires strong partnerships with Tribal law enforcement, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and state and local law enforcement.  

The Justice Department also handles a large caseload of civil litigation. Our civil cases include litigating environmental and natural resource issues, protecting Tribal treaty rights, and enforcing the civil rights of Native Americans.  

Our grant making components provided over $134 million to Tribes in Fiscal Year 2017.  Those components include the Office of Justice Programs, the Office for Victims of Crime, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Office on Community Oriented Policing Services. The grants support police, serve victims, help Tribes address domestic violence and sexual abuse, and strengthen tribal justice systems.

It is imperative that we maintain a strong government-to-government working relationship, rooted in mutual respect and shared purpose. As the first point of contact for Tribes at the Department of Justice, our Office of Tribal Justice was made a permanent fixture by the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. Many of you know its director, Tracy Toulou. I first met Tracy 25 years ago. He has devoted most of his career to this important work, and he is an ideal person for the job.

Our United States Attorney’s Offices are a crucial part of our engagement with Tribes. Each U.S. Attorney with Indian country responsibility has at least one Tribal Liaison who serves as the primary point of contact with Tribes located in the district. In addition to their duties as prosecutors, Tribal Liaisons often coordinate with and train Tribal law enforcement officers. 

We are fortunate to have talented United States Attorneys and Assistant United States Attorneys who are committed to enhancing public safety in native communities.

Trent Shores was nominated by President Trump, and confirmed by the Senate, to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Trent is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation, and he is invested in Tribal issues and committed to making Indian country safer. I’m pleased that Trent will help lead the Department of Justice’s efforts to fight crime in Indian country, as the new Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. 

Kurt Alme, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, will serve as the Subcommittee Vice Chair. Trent and Kurt will work together with the 47 other U.S. Attorneys who serve Indian country to develop smart policies and craft solutions to problems.

We know from experience that the best way to understand our challenges and respond to them is through relationships built upon trust and respect. That’s why our administration held a series of listening sessions with Tribes concerning law enforcement in May and June of last year. And this past December, the Attorney General’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council had a series of meetings here in Washington with leaders throughout the Department of Justice. The Council consists of Tribal leaders who represent regions across the country. Representatives traveled from Alaska, the Four Corners, Washington, and elsewhere.  

I met with the Council during their last visit to Washington. I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed the dialogue. They shared concerns about crime, the drug epidemic, and the need to leverage resources and amass better data and technology to tackle these and other problems. 

One particularly memorable conversation was with Chief Michael Stickman of the Nulato Village in Alaska. Chief Stickman explained the unique challenges faced by tribal members living in rural areas. His Tribe wants the same thing that everyone else does: public safety.

We know that violent crime in Indian country is far too common. Violence in Indian country, particularly domestic and sexual violence against women and children, is pervasive in many places.  But it is not a reality that we are willing to accept.

Early in this administration, Attorney General Sessions made it a point to recognize an alarming upturn in violent crime in American communities, and we have set out in earnest to try to reverse that trend. 

Approximately 85 percent of our pending Indian country investigations relate to violent crime. The most investigated crimes include child sexual abuse, violent assaults, and adult sexual assaults, followed by homicide, other forms of child abuse, drug, and property crimes.

As just one example, Eli Sloan was convicted after a two-week jury trial in federal court for his brutal attack on his estranged wife. Sloan kidnapped, beat, strangled, and sexually assaulted the victim. After a jury trial resulting in a conviction on six counts, Sloan was sentenced to more than 27 years in prison.

Native women and girls suffer a high rate of violence, including murder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that American Indian and Alaska Native women experienced some of the highest rates of homicide based on an analysis from 18 states.

We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute crime in Tribal areas. And we need to be proactive, rather than just merely reactive, when it comes to combating crime. The Attorney General instructed our U.S. Attorneys to study the crime problems in their districts; to partner with state, local, and Tribal law enforcement; and to find solutions to reduce crime. 

It will not be easy, but I know that they are up to the challenge. We will also continue to look for partnerships to help us combat these crimes.

In November 2017, our Associate Attorney General attended a trilateral summit on violence against indigenous women and girls. The summit took place in Ottawa, Canada and featured delegations from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They discussed ways to work more effectively across international borders to address violent crime against indigenous women and girls, including human trafficking.  

As is true throughout the country, substance abuse and drug trafficking are major challenges in Tribal areas. Methamphetamine continues to be a menace in many areas, and the opioid epidemic has also reached Indian country, with devastating impact. Fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone and other opioid drugs are destroying many lives.

There were about 8,000 overdose deaths in America in 1990.  But in 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. To put that total into perspective, our country lost more Americans in 2016 to overdoses than in battle during the entire Vietnam War. And opioids such as fentanyl are fueling this epidemic. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. 

Native American communities have been hit particularly hard by this epidemic. According to the CDC, American Indian and Alaska Native people had the highest drug overdose death rate in 2015. 

The opioid epidemic is a top priority for the President and the Attorney General. Last year, we announced the formation of the Justice Department’s Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit. The prosecutors use data to identify and prosecute health care fraud related to the diversion of prescription opioids.

In 2017, the Justice Department awarded nearly $59 million in Tribal grants to strengthen drug court programs. The Bureau of Justice Assistance runs our Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program, which aims to reduce opioid misuse and the number of overdose deaths. The program uses prescription drug monitoring to prevent the misuse and diversion of controlled substances.

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration held its annual take back day. A total of 115 collection sites were set up on Tribal lands. Nationwide, we collected a record-setting total of almost one million pounds of prescription drugs.

Fighting crime requires partnerships that develop targeted solutions tailored to local areas. Last year, the Attorney General announced the reinvigoration of our Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which empowers our U.S. Attorneys to form comprehensive collaborations with state, local, and Tribal law enforcement to fight crime. 

We are helping to train investigators and assist in the cross-deputization of Tribal law enforcement. Better investigations lead to better cases, more prosecutions, and more convictions that remove bad actors and increase public safety and confidence in law enforcement.

One initiative that we are particularly proud of is the Tribal Access Program. That program, coordinated by our Office of Tribal Justice, provides Tribes with a kiosk that gives them access to federal crime databases. The access goes both ways. Tribal law enforcement can access offender data, and also can upload information to share with other agencies. 

This program has been tremendously successful. Tribes have entered more than 300 sex offender registrations into the system. In dozens of instances, data entered by a Tribe prevented the illegal purchase of firearms. More than 350 protection orders have been entered or modified. And Tribes have conducted more than 2,000 fingerprint-based record checks for civil purposes, including employment.

In one case, a sergeant of the Suquamish Tribal Police Department was investigating the kidnapping of an elderly man. The man suffered from dementia and didn’t have his medication with him, so time was of the essence. The only clue the detective had was the partial name of a suspect who may have driven off the reservation with the victim.

Because the Suquamish Tribe participates in the program, the sergeant was able to log into an FBI database. He found a phone number and a police report from another county with a full name and date of birth of the suspect.  He also learned that there was an active protection order against the suspect.  From this, the detective was able to obtain a description of the car. As a result, he located the suspect and rescued the elderly victim.

A few years ago, that success story would not have been possible.

So far, we have deployed kiosks to 33 Tribes across the country. We plan to deploy 14 more this year.

Those are just a few examples of federal law enforcement support for Tribal communities.

The Department of Justice’s partnerships with Tribal nations are rooted in respect, tradition, and history. But our partnerships are really about the future. 

In conclusion, I want to thank you again for the opportunity to be here. I look forward to continuing to work with you.  

Together, we will make Tribal communities safer.

Thank you.

Indian Country Law and Justice
Updated February 13, 2018