Remarks as prepared for delivery
It is a profound honor to be here today with such amazing advocates, leaders, and representatives of sovereign tribal nations. Thank you for the gift of your time today, and thank you for everything you give to survivors in your nations and your communities. This conference is a tremendous gathering of advocates, survivors, victim service providers, tribal leadership, prosecutors, law enforcement, and tribal court personnel dedicated to ending violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women, men, and children.
On behalf of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, I want to recognize and thank all of the tribal leaders in the room who are here despite their incredibly busy schedules. Please stand and be recognized.
I also want to thank the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center for sponsoring this event and inviting me to offer opening remarks. Thank you, Lucy Rain Simpson, for your leadership and nationwide work to enhance the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
And I am particularly grateful this morning to Faith Spotted Eagle for setting the tone for the day with a beautiful traditional opening.
This year’s conference theme, “Resilience: Walking in Ancestral Footprints, Carrying Our Medicine,” focuses on the journey of all indigenous peoples – where you came from and where you are going.
It speaks to the many different native traditions of our 573 federally recognized tribes and draws upon your strength through cultural knowledge and the practice of your medicine.
The work that we do at the Office on Violence Against Women, or OVW, in partnership with our tribal technical assistance providers and grantees, values this strength and cultural heritage. OVW administers the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes dedicated funding for tribes and tribal communities. In administering VAWA, we seek to empower you to end violence in your communities, and to stand beside you as allies in ending domestic and sexual violence.
How can we accomplish this ambitious goal? First, I want you to know that we have strong support from President Trump, Attorney General Sessions, and this Administration. The President requested $5.5 million more for VAWA than OVW had even requested.
Second, OVW is focused on three approaches: hearing all voices; justice for all people; and lasting change for all communities.
It can feel like no one in the federal government hears you, but I promise we do. We can’t always respond, but we hear you. In fact, the voices of survivors and those who serve and protect them are essential to OVW’s implementation of VAWA. Of course we also learn from the latest research, closely follow the law, and are guided by the Attorney General and the President’s leadership, but your voices are always at the forefront.
We gather your input in many ways, and that enables us to hear from the most powerful tribal leaders and the most vulnerable members of your communities. For example, in September we will host a Tribal Governments Summit in Denver, Colorado, which brings together tribal leaders and OVW tribal grantees. We hosted two gatherings of American Indian and Alaska Native men to hear their perspectives, and we hold special public conferrals where survivors and stakeholders can share their concerns.
But the biggest way we hear you is at our annual Government-to-Government Tribal Consultation. This year it will be in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and will be hosted by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association. As requested by tribal leaders, this year we expanded the consultation to two full days with the afternoon of the second day planned for an interactive discussion between the tribal and federal leaders in the room. I look forward to seeing many of you there and hearing from tribal leaders on how we can strengthen the federal response to ending violence in tribal communities.
Once we have heard all voices, we focus on justice for all communities. We have heard you talk about the appalling numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, many of whom were trafficked. In response, we have included sex trafficking as a priority in our grant-making, and our Tribal Governments Program is one of the few VAWA programs that can address sex trafficking as a stand-alone crime.
We have heard you talk about the scourge of substance abuse, particularly opioids and methamphetamines, and how victims need services that include both recovery from substance use and safety from domestic violence. I have directed my staff to look across our programs for ways to address this intersection, and we are building relationships with the Department of Health and Human Services to make it happen.
One of the primary challenges to attaining justice is a lack of prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable. OVW has responded by funding Tribal Special U.S. Attorneys (Tribal SAUSAs). These tribal prosecutors are able to bring cases in both tribal and federal court to ensure that cases do not fall through the cracks.
OVW-funded Tribal SAUSAs reported a wide range of successes, including prosecution of cases that otherwise would not have been prosecuted, increased trust and better relationships between tribal law enforcement, victim services, victims, and the participating U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and greater accountability for violence against women-related crimes in Indian country. Tribal SAUSAs have been able to advocate for their tribe’s views and needs, which helps the tribe have more input into prosecutions.
The dire need for victim services and law enforcement is what we hear most often from you, and providing funding to address that need is our primary focus every day. OVW’s Tribal Governments Program enhances the ability of tribes to respond to violent crimes against Indian women, improve victim safety, and develop education and prevention strategies. In fiscal year 2018, OVW funds for tribal governments and tribal nonprofits totaled nearly $56 million. Our OVW Tribal Affairs Division is working hard to get those funds awarded and accessible to tribal grantees by the end of the fiscal year.
But it’s not enough just to fund those communities fortunate enough to compete successfully for OVW’s limited funding. We will simply never have enough money to meet every need, and the federal government is not an unlimited source of funding. Grants are competitive, so communities that are funded one year often lose that funding a few years later.
To create lasting change – change that reaches all communities, well beyond our grantees – we fund technical assistance. We know that there is tremendous need for culturally specific training, technical assistance, and resources for advocates, law enforcement, and service providers. Our initiatives include SAFESTAR, which trains traditional healthcare providers in Indian Country to collect sexual assault forensic evidence and assist victims. We also teach tribal attorneys to litigate civil tribal court cases through the National Tribal Trial College: Tribal Court Legal Advocacy Program. Through leadership meetings, we help Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalitions solve problems in their communities. Perhaps most importantly, we help tribes implement the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction over certain non-Indian domestic violence offenders.
OVW is using a new model that will strengthen service provision across regions. We started with Alaska tribal grantees, coalitions, and technical assistance providers. We brought everyone together along with OVW staff from our Tribal Affairs Division, Grants Financial Management Unit, and more to address issues that are creating challenges for grantees in the success of their programs. The goal is to make change truly sustainable by building the capacity of grantees, maximizing resources, and improving regional collaboration.
We are even taking our work beyond the United States to partner with indigenous women and government leaders from Canada and Mexico. We are currently planning our third trilateral meeting with our partners from Canada and Mexico. Government officials and tribal advocates from all three countries will share best practices on combating domestic and sexual violence in indigenous communities, acknowledging the link to sex trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous women.
The future of our work must be better collaboration, closer working relationships, and partnering across every agency that touches the lives of victims. The future will be integrated models that produce greater accountability for offenders and safety, hope, and healing for adult and child survivors. Where possible, I encourage you to coordinate with Project Safe Neighborhoods. This initiative is very important to Attorney General Sessions as we strive to reduce violent crime and make our communities safe for all.
Yesterday, I was humbled by the honor of visiting the Pueblo of Acoma. I am truly inspired by their work, which includes providing quality, credentialed, and holistic services – including traditional approaches. They are also dedicated to addressing the ways alcohol and substance abuse impact families. Most importantly, they are building on the strength of the community and resilience of individuals.
I know you all are also doing incredible work, and I hope to talk with you or see you on a future site visit. Keep an eye on OVW’s website and Twitter feed – @OVWJustice – for information and funding announcements. OVW is deeply committed to working with tribes and tribal communities on critically important issues to end violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women, men, and children. I thank you for your commitment to collaborative responses that meet victims wherever they are.
Let us all walk this journey, together!