Justice News

Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer Delivers Remarks at 2016 American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month Observance Program
United States
Monday, November 21, 2016

Thank you, Tracy [Toulou], for your kind words and for the contributions you and your dedicated team at the Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ) have made to promote tribal justice and public safety in Indian country.  And thank you to Director Richard Toscano and the Justice Management Division (JMD) Equal Employment Opportunity Staff (EEOS) for organizing today’s observance program and to Gina Allery and the DOJ Native American Association for their support as well.  

In the month of November, we honor the history and traditions of America’s indigenous peoples.  We join together today to celebrate American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month and to welcome our keynote speaker, Tracy Canard Goodluck, to the department. 

The theme this year – “Serving Our Nations” – captures the work that we together are doing here at the department.  That shared commitment to improving the daily lives of tribal communities has made and will continue to make a difference.  Here are just a few highlights: 

  • We worked across components to secure passage of landmark legislation with the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which reaffirmed our commitment to building and sustaining healthier, safer tribal communities and renewed our enduring promise to respect sovereignty and self-determination.  Our efforts also helped secure passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization, which recognizes tribes’ inherent power to exercise "special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction" over certain defendants regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status.
  • We built and began implementing the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP), which provides federally recognized tribes access to national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes.  Just last month, we announced an expansion of TAP incorporating feedback from participating tribes who identified and shared best practices to further strengthen tribal institutions’ ability to keep communities safe.
  • Over the past seven years, the department has awarded over 1,650 Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) grant awards to American Indian tribes, Alaska Native villages, tribal consortia and tribal designees to improve public safety in Tribal communities and to strengthen tribal justice systems.  These figures include 236 CTAS grants totaling more than $102 million that were awarded in the recently completed 2016 grant cycle.
  • We established the Gaye Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship.  The program honors a former 30-year Department of Justice attorney by creating public service opportunities in Indian country for young lawyers with expertise and a commitment to federal Indian law, tribal law, and Indian country issues.
  • We published the Department of Justice Consultation Policy and the Attorney General’s Statement of Principles for Working with Federally Recognized Indian Tribes, both of which are intended to guide the work of this department in Indian country going forward.
  • We created the Tribal National Leadership Council, a democratically-elected group of tribal leaders responsible for advising the Attorney General.
  • We established the National Indian Country Training Initiative to ensure that the department prosecutors, as well as state and tribal criminal justice personnel, receive the training and support needed to address the particular challenges relevant to Indian country. 
  • And we built law enforcement partnerships between the FBI and sister agencies and identified tribal liaisons within each U.S. Attorney’s Office that has Indian country within its jurisdiction.  Indeed, I was privileged to meet many of these dedicated Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) in a recent visit to the Flathead Reservation in Montana.
  • We have shown that we can collaborate effectively across the department and across the federal government to better serve Indian country.  The department’s work on the Indian Child Welfare Act—involving the Environment and Natural Resources Division, the Office of Tribal Justice, the Civil Rights Division, and the Office of Justice Programs, as well as the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services—is just one example.  Our efforts have promoted compliance with this important federal law that seeks to keep Indian children with their parents, extended families, and tribal communities. 

We can point with pride to the Environment and Natural Resource Division’s (ENRD) work to protect tribal resources, water rights and treaty hunting and fishing rights and to its defense of the Department of the Interior’s authority to acquire land into trust for tribes.  Recent victories in both the district court and the court of appeals helped preserve the treaty fishing rights of Pacific Northwest Tribes by removing barriers to salmon passage.  ENRD’s efforts recognize the importance of protecting the environment and natural resources of the First Nations, who were also the first environmental stewards of this great land and from whom we still have much to learn.

I am pleased to report that the department has continued to make progress in resolving long-standing tribal trust cases.  In 2016 alone, we reached settlements with 17 tribes for almost $493 million.  Since the start of the Obama Administration, the department has settled the claims of 104 tribes for a total of $3.35 billion.  These settlements represent a significant milestone in improving the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian tribes, and allow the federal government and the tribal nations to move beyond tensions that were exacerbated by litigation.

Even as we celebrate the progress we have made, we must acknowledge that our work is far from finished.  We have all been watching events in North Dakota over the weekend.  History teaches that we make progress in the face of conflicting views where we honor the right to disagree peacefully with one another.  The Justice Department has been in communication with local law enforcement, as well as tribal representatives and protesters, to promote communication and lower tensions.  We will continue those efforts. 

There are a lot of challenges in Indian country, and it continues to be the responsibility of those of us at the department to identify and correct the injustices that persist.  I am proud to be affiliated with a department that does not shy away from tackling those challenges, and embraces the opportunity to work directly with Tribes across the country.

Before we move on to the next part of our program, I would like to recognize the work of Lorraine Edmo, the Deputy Director for Tribal Affairs at the Office on Violence Against Women and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.  She has dedicated her decades-long career to seeking out and correcting injustice in Tribal communities. 

Lorraine is retiring soon and will be greatly missed.  Her sustained dedication to supporting Tribal communities has been an inspiration.  Thank you, Lorraine, for your tremendous service.  We are grateful that your husband, Jerry Cordova of the Department of the Interior, is also participating here today.  We especially respect public service when it’s a family affair, and we wish you both well.  

I now turn to the privilege of introducing our keynote speaker, Tracy Canard Goodluck of the Oneida and Mvskoke Creek Nations.  Her passion for education and improving outcomes for students in tribal communities has made her a role model to many.  In her current role of Senior Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, Tracy serves as a key liaison to tribal communities for the Administration.  Previously, she was a policy advisor at the Domestic Policy Council and, as a Presidential Management Fellow, handled the legislative portfolio for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.  We are honored to have her here today.  Please join me in welcoming Tracy Canard Goodluck.

Updated November 21, 2016