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Speech

Director Rosie Hidalgo Delivers Remarks at the National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Conference

Location

Cherokee, NC
United States

Good morning! I’d like to thank the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and President Mark Macarro for the opportunity and honor of addressing all of you here today.

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Rosie Hidalgo and I serve as the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, or OVW. In this role, I work to advance OVW’s mission of preventing and addressing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and other related forms of gender-based violence, including sex trafficking. I appreciated the opportunity to speak at the NCAI conference in February. I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a brief overview of the work of OVW and update you on OVW’s activities since then.

The Office on Violence Against Women was created to implement key parts of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), bipartisan legislation that came into existence after years of grassroots advocacy, and the tireless efforts from survivors, including those in Tribal communities. Each subsequent reauthorization of VAWA legislation, including most recently in 2022, has enhanced VAWA protections and expanded grant programs to help survivors access justice, safety and healing.

OVW administers numerous grant programs and funds training and technical assistance to communities across the country working to prevent and respond to these crimes and improve support for victims/survivors, including Tribes and Tribal organizations. Increasing public safety in Indian country and Alaska Native Villages is a top priority for OVW and the Justice Department. Advancing Tribal sovereignty and supporting community-driven solutions are of great importance and are a core focus of OVW’s Tribal grant programs.

For fiscal year (FY) 2024, I’m pleased to announce that appropriations for VAWA implementation were $713 million, the highest amount we’ve ever received. This reflects an increase of over 35% since 2021. Last year, in FY 2023, OVW’s Tribal Affairs Division awarded nearly $64 million in grants for Tribes and Tribal organizations. This year, based on the FY 24 increase in appropriations, we anticipate being able to award nearly $80 million for Tribes and Tribal organizations.

OVW’s Tribal Affairs Division is directed by Sherriann Moore from the Rosebud Sicangu’ Lakota Nation. The Tribal Affairs Division (TAD) administers five grant programs that are specifically designated for Tribes and Tribal organizations to respond to the evolving needs of Tribal communities. In recent years, TAD has experienced tremendous growth: OVW heard from Tribal leaders and advocates that they needed more support from OVW staff and, as a result, TAD has more than tripled its staffing to 14 staff members, many of whom are located in Tribal communities and have extensive experience working with Tribes.

The disproportionate rates of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, and the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are increasingly recognized, thanks in part to the work of NCAI and many other Tribal organizations TAD’s programs support the work that is being done in Tribal communities to end gender-based violence, support survivors, and hold offenders accountable. But this work cannot be done without your leadership and direction. Your knowledge and commitment are essential to preventing and addressing gender-based violence, and you and your communities know best how to enhance access to safety, justice, and healing. OVW is committed to uplifting Tribal sovereignty and ensuring that Tribal governments and Tribal organizations can access critical VAWA resources to advance these goals.

To that end, there are several programs and initiatives I’d like to highlight:

We know OVW funds are critical to providing safety, support and justice in Tribal communities for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We have diligently implemented initiatives to streamline the application and reporting process and make our funding much more accessible to Tribes.

This year, OVW issued two separate Grants to Tribal Governments Program solicitations. In addition to our usual Tribal Governments Program, which supports responses by Tribal governments and authorized designees of Tribal governments, to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking and stalking in Tribal communities, OVW released the Strengthening Tribal Advocacy Responses Track (START) solicitation, which is a funding opportunity for applicants that have never, or not recently, received funding through the OVW Tribal Governments Program. Tribal Governments START grantees will focus on capacity building early in the project period and will receive additional training, technical assistance and support.

This is the result of taking a hard look at the application and management process and recognizing that we needed to make it less burdensome, including by simplifying the application process and providing tools and support to applicants.

Additionally, we are committed to supporting Tribes that are interested in implementing Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators based on the expanded list of covered crimes that were recognized in VAWA 2022. In addition to domestic violence and dating violence, this now includes sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, assault of Tribal justice personnel and obstruction of justice.

The Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction Program provides financial support and technical assistance to Indian Tribes for planning and implementing changes in their criminal justice systems necessary to exercise “special Tribal criminal jurisdiction.”

Within the Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction (STCJ) Program is the Targeted Support for Alaska Native Tribes Special Initiative. This initiative is designed to assist Alaska Native Tribal governments, or consortia of Alaska Native Tribal governments, that plan to seek designation by the Attorney General as participating Tribes able to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians through the Alaska Pilot Program. In fact, just last month, the inaugural Alaska Inter-Tribal Working Group (ITWG) was held Alaska, in which Alaska Tribes, along with federal, state and local officials, and other key stakeholders, met to collaborate on exercising STCJ. We are proud to support the Alaska Native Justice Center and its project partners, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Alaska Tribal Justice Resource Center/Rural CAP, Tribal Governance Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Tanana Chiefs Conference in conducting the ITWG.

Currently, there are two Alaska Native Tribes funded and in the planning stages of exercising STJC: Chickaloon Native Village and the Village of Dot Lake; OVW funded $3 million toward this effort. The solicitation for the FY2024 program opened just last week and will remain open to applications until July 11. We anticipate awarding another $3 million for this initiative this fiscal year.

I’m pleased to share that just last month, OVW announced that we have awarded funding to 14 Tribes across the country, as a part of our new Tribal Jurisdiction Reimbursement Program, that was established in VAWA 2022, which reimburses Tribal governments for expenses incurred while exercising this jurisdiction. A total of $4 million will be made available this year through this reimbursement program.

Also last month, OVW launched a new special initiative to fund Healing and Response Teams, which was created based on recommendations made by the Not Invisible Act Commission, or NIAC. The funding will support the creation, training and sustainability of Healing and Response Teams using a Tribal-based model of care to respond to Missing or Murdered Indigenous People cases related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and sex trafficking. The solicitation is open until June 27, and I encourage Tribes interested in this program to apply.

One thing I’d like to emphasize: the funding opportunities that I just mentioned are specifically for Tribes, but all of OVW's grant programs are also open to Tribes, such as the campus grant program that also has a special initiative to support Tribal colleges. I encourage you to explore the possibility of applying for OVW funding through different grant programs. You can learn more on our website, which is www.justice.gov/ovw.

In addition to funding increased efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence, we know that research and data are also very important to inform these efforts. At last year’s Tribal Consultation, we heard from many of you interested in the status of the Program of Research, which examines violence against Indian women in Indian Country and Alaska Native villages, and evaluates the effectiveness of federal, state, Tribal and local responses to these crimes. I am happy to announce that OVW has requested the renewal of the charter for the Task Force on Research on Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women, also known as the Section 904 Task Force. We are committed to continuing the important work of this federal advisory committee. The Task Force provides advice and recommendations on research addressing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, murder and sex trafficking experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native women living in Indian country and Alaska. We will also look to the Task Force to propose recommendations to improve the effectiveness of federal, state, Tribal and local responses to these crimes. I am pleased to announce that a virtual meeting of the Task Force will be held on June 17 and others who are interested can also participate virtually and provide comments.

In the near future, and after the Section 904 Task Force is re-chartered, OVW will be seeking nominations for new members to serve alongside the current Task Force members. By statute, these nominees must be representatives from Tribal governments, national Tribal domestic violence and sexual assault nonprofit organizations and national Tribal organizations.

Earlier this spring, our Tribal Affairs Division held listening sessions with Tribal practitioners serving survivors regarding The Enhancing Tribal Behavioral Health Response and Support for Victims Special Initiative (TBHRS), which will support trauma- and culturally-informed services in Tribal communities. The Tribal Affairs Division hopes to have an application solicitation posted before the end of the fiscal year.

Just last month, the Justice Department released a prosecutor guide for improving the national response to sexual assault and domestic violence cases. This will lead to better outcomes for survivors, safer communities and greater accountability. This guide was written by and for prosecutors, including Tribal prosecutors who collaborated with the Department in its development. The guide equips all prosecutors to build provable cases using a survivor-centered, trauma-informed approach and it emphasizes the need for cultural sensitivity and awareness. Further, the guide encourages utilizing all statutory and evidentiary tools thoroughly and emphasizes the need for open lines of communication between Tribal and federal prosecutors.

In order to implement each of these initiatives, OVW needs to work, together, with Tribal governments, Tribal advocates and Tribal organizations. VAWA legislation requires that OVW conduct annual consultations with leaders of federally recognized Tribal governments. The 19th Annual Government-to-Government Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation will be held Nov. 19-21 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the Tribal lands of the Pueblo of Pojoaque. We hope you will join us. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

We at OVW know that the best solutions to the challenges faced by Tribal communities are those shaped and informed by Tribal voices and leadership.

Thank you for your work, thank you for your leadership and thank you for the honor of speaking with all of you today.


Updated June 3, 2024