United States Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref Hosts Federal & Tribal Regional Summit Focused on Tribal Treaty Rights, Environmental Justice, and Civil Rights
From July 25-26, 2023, U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref–alongside co-hosts from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the Office of Environmental Justice, and the Office of Tribal Justice – hosted Tribes from across the Northwest Region of the United States at a joint federal and Tribal Summit in Spokane, Washington.
The Summit built on a November 2022 Tribal Listening Session in Washington, DC and a national Federal/Tribal Summit in Columbia, South Carolina in early 2023. The purpose of the submit was to focus on commitment to work with Tribal governments and other federal agencies to find “ways to address and incorporate Tribal concerns into the Department’s enforcement work.” This week’s meeting was the first of three Regional Summits planned for this calendar year.
At the meeting, U.S. Attorney Waldref welcomed representatives of Tribal Nations from Idaho, Washington, and Montana. At the outset of the Summit, U.S. Attorney Waldref acknowledged that the gathering was taking place on the ancestral lands of the Spokane Tribe. The meeting was held in the Spokane Public Library overlooking the Spokane Falls and artwork by Virgil “Smoker” Marchand, a member of the Lakes Band of the Colville Confederated Tribe, who passed away earlier this year. Monica Tonasket, a member of the Spokane Tribal Council gave a land acknowledgement and blessing to the group to kick off the Summit. Numerous Tribal leaders, including from each of the Tribes in the Eastern District of Washington, attended and actively participated in the Summit.
In remarks made during the summit, Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for ENRD challenged the group to identify new ways to work together to address the substantial challenges that Tribes face in establishing and preserving sustainable homelands. AAG Kim noted the unique government-to-government relationship that the United States has with Tribes, and the Justice Department’s role in upholding and asserting federal reserved water rights claims and other tribal and treaty rights. He then linked Summit goals to three key Administration priorities: respecting Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, furthering environmental justice and combating the climate crisis.
In her remarks, U.S. Attorney Waldref noted the criminal prosecutions that her office has pursued in Indian Country and announced that the Justice Department has selected the Eastern District of Washington to house a federal prosecutor focused on addressing the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People for the Western Region of the United States. She also conveyed her commitment to environmental justice, reflected in her position as Chair of the Environmental Justice & Environmental Issues Subcommittee that advises Attorney General Merrick Garland. U.S. Attorney Waldref also emphasized that environmental protection is a critical component of public health and safety.
The Summit then included a number of short presentations followed by in-depth discussions around three issues: tribal water rights, challenges Tribes are facing with a rapidly changing climate, and treaty rights related to hunting and gathering of natural resources.
On July 26, 2023, the second day of the summit, Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 addressed the group. The Federal Bureau of Investigation then presented on the FBI’s work in Indian County, including emerging trends related to pollution crime, theft of natural resources, and illicit activity tied to extractive industries. Additional presentations provided information on federal grant opportunities, the National Ocean Justice Strategy and grant and investigatory resources at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It was an honor for the Eastern District of Washington to host the Justice Department’s first regional summit focused on defending and strengthening Tribal homelands, climate adaptation, resilience and environmental justice,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref after the event. “It was humbling to gather together with several Tribal nations at the base of Spokane Falls, where Tribes from across the Columbia Plateau have historically gathered to fish for the Chinook Salmon that once spawned beneath these sacred waterfalls. The Justice Department and our District are fully committed to enforcing laws to achieve environmental justice, working together to combat the climate crisis, and protecting civil rights, all while continuing to recognize and respect Tribal sovereignty.”
U.S. Attorney Waldref leads the Environmental Justice & Environmental Issues Subcommittee for the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC). As the leader of the Environmental Justice Subcommittee, U.S. Attorney Waldref plays a key role in advising the AGAC on environmental matters of importance to the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. U.S. Attorney Waldref has been serving in this role since September 2022.
First Assistant United States Attorney and Public Affairs Officer
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