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Outreach to Tribal Communities: Building Capacity and Preventing Crime

The goal of U.S. Attorneys Offices with Indian Country jurisdiction has not only been to strengthen our core responsibility of prosecuting cases arising in Indian Country, but also to work collaboratively with tribal communities to enhance public safety. To this end, United States Attorneys understand the importance of working with tribal communities to build capacity and help make tribal communities safer through outreach efforts designed to strengthen tribal institutions and prevent criminal activity from occurring.

Development of multi-agency task forces, facilitation of multi-disciplinary teams, and creating new and innovative training programs are but a few of the many ways in which many United States Attorneys’ Offices are working to achieve these goals. Below are a few examples of the outreach efforts in which many United States Attorneys are actively engaged.

  • The Wabanaisee 'Snowbird' Singers performing at the 2010 Great Lakes Native American Conference in the EDMI
    The Wabanaisee Singers are a contemporary, but still very traditional Anishinabekwewag (Women’s) hand-drum group that follows the teachings of their Elders and Grandmothers in the way they drum and carry themselves in their communities. Their Elders tell them that the deweigan (drum) is the heartbeat of their nation and the drumbeat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. The group sings for peace, unity, Mother Earth, their Elders, and their children.

    The Wabanaisee Singers began not as a singing group, but as a community Women’s Circle at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in 2004-05 in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Each week, the Circle shared their hearts with one another, laughed, cried, and worked out solutions to the issues of the day. They began singing songs together, and out of these practices, the singing group was formed. A few months later, they requested a name from a traditional man who was guided by the spirits to bless them with the name Wabanaisee. The name refers to a white snowbird---a tough little bird that stays in a group and braves the long, cold northern winters. A lone snowbird is rarely ever seen as such birds are usually singing and playfully flying about in a group. The group has continued to sing and grow as a drum family over the years and recently started a Snowbird junior group to teach the songs to young women so that there will always be Snowbirds singing in the future. The Snowbird women have the following tribal affiliations: Ojibway, Odawa, Potawatomie, Cree, and Mohawk.

    The group began singing publically at local community events, and have also been asked to sing at events across the Midwest and in Washington, D.C. (In the photo displayed above, the group is performing at the 17th Annual Great Lakes Native American Conference in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, in September 2010). Their songs can be categorized as honor songs, ceremonial songs, social songs, and round dance songs.

    The group believes that the drum, and the teachings that come from the drum, along with mind, body, and spirit, are treated with reverence and respect. The traditional understanding of their uniqueness as women demands that they care for themselves and support each other through daily triumphs and challenges. The group encourages and educates the audience to listen with a spiritual ear as they continue to bring women’s songs forward to various communities.
    Providing training to address the effects of drugs and alcohol on children in tribal communities. In the Western District of Wisconsin, the United States Attorney’s Office has trained health and social service providers and advanced public awareness of drugs – prescription pills, inhalants, crack cocaine, heroin, and alcohol, as well as methamphetamine – that are plaguing tribal nations. This focus has arisen because the drug threat on tribal lands is significant with children at-risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, or emotional neglect, as a result of their care giver’s involvement in the drug culture. The stated goal of this training is for the tribes in the Western District of Wisconsin to established their own networks to effectively address the problem.

  • Establishing advisory groups and holding town hall meetings. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota has established an Indian Country Advisory Group to provide input and advice to the U.S. Attorney on a number of timely and challenging issues associated with law enforcement and proactive outreach initiatives, and it has hosted Tribal Town Hall Meetings to provide continuity for the ongoing discussions with tribal leaders and public safety officials.

  • Developing Anti-violence strategies. The United States Attorney’s Office in the District of North Dakota has held a Tribal Listening Conference and will make that conference an annual event. It has also focused more prosecutorial resources in Indian Country, developed multi-disciplinary teams comprised of law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers and health care providers to jointly address the needs of victims; and instituted a prevention outreach program in which Assistant United States Attorneys instruct school children about the consequences of alcohol and illegal drug use.

  • Publicly recognizing outstanding tribal law enforcement officers whose contributions to public safety serve as models to others. The United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Montana has established a “Working Hard, Making a Difference” award that honors tribal partners in law enforcement who deserve special recognition for the efforts they have made to improve public safety in tribal communities.

  • Sponsoring, or co-sponsoring, Tribal Youth Summits. Earlier this year, the District of South Dakota hosted approximately 400 Native American students from across South Dakota at four different forums to address topics including gangs, violence against women, suicide, and drugs and alcohol. United States Attorneys’ Office have sponsored similar youth summits in other districts and, in July 2011, a National Tribal Youth Summit will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Five United States Attorneys will meet with tribal youth from tribal communities throughout the country.

  • Helping to foster the development of Tribal Prosecutors’ Associations: The United States Attorneys Offices in South Dakota, Arizona, and Montana have supported and helped foster the development of organizations in which tribal prosecutors can share information and work together to advance law enforcement objectives in tribal communities.

  • Providing Project Safe Childhood Training. On May 26, 2011, the Tribal Liaison for the Western District of North Carolina, AUSA Don Gast, spoke at a conference in Cherokee, North Carolina, about Project Safe Childhood and federal laws that require the mandatory reporting of child abuse in Indian country. The three-day course was sponsored by the National District Attorney’s Association and was attended by members of the Cherokee Indian Police Department, local sheriff’s departments, local social workers, and victim advocates, all of whom provide services in Indian country.

  • Training Tribal Officers in Federal Procedures. Assistant United States Attorneys in the District of Arizona cross-trained more than 400 Arizona tribal officers in federal criminal procedures better equipping them to investigate criminal activity on the reservations. Tribal Officers who are trained for, and receive, special law enforcement commissions can refer cases directly to the United States Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

  • Educating tribal communities on victims’ rights. The United States Attorneys Offices for the Western District of Wisconsin, the Western District of Michigan, and the Eastern District of Michigan annually sponsor the Great Lakes Native American Conferences, designed to education participants regarding victims’ rights with the goal that those attending will, in turn, share the information with tribal members, including family members and co-workers. Similar programs have been sponsored by United States Attorneys Offices in other districts including the District of Wyoming.

  • Developing initiatives to protect victims. In December, 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana kicked off its Fearless Justice Initiative in partnership with the FBI and tribal authorities in Montana. The initiative is designed to strengthen public safety efforts in Montana’s Indian communities through the suppression of intimidation and coercion of victims and witnesses to crime;

  • Holding Summits on jurisdictional and environmental issues. The United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Oregon sponsored a jurisdiction and law enforcement summit regarding tribal issues arising on the Columbia River. The Summit identified jurisdictional issues pertaining to the exercise of treaty fishing rights and related activities on the Columbia River. It was attended by representatives from the United States Attorneys’ Offices in the District of Oregon, the District of Idaho, the Eastern District of Washington, and the Western District of Washington, and representatives of four federally recognized tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; the Yakima Indian Nation; and the Nez Perce Tribe.

  • Providing critical training on topics of public safety. The United States Attorneys Offices in Oklahoma’s three federal districts in have a long tradition of active participation in Indian country events and often work together to jointly sponsor conferences addressing topics of public safety. All three districts provide speakers and faculty members for the Sovereignty Symposium sponsored by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. The Sovereignty Symposium was created as a forum for the discussion of frequently occurring legal issues in a scholarly, non-adversarial environment. Moreover, the districts routinely provide extensive training for federal, state, local and tribal officers on subjects such as violent crimes, domestic violence, jurisdiction, and firearm in Indian Country.

Clearly, the community of United States Attorneys with Indian Country jurisdiction is fully dedicated to addressing public safety needs of tribal communities – not only in the courtroom, but in the larger community as well. The Executive Office for United States Attorneys will continue to work closely with all of these United States Attorney to identify best practices and innovative programs that can serve as models for other districts.

Recognizing Outstanding Tribal Law Enforcement Officers in the District of Montana

U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter presenting an award to Henry Devereaux

"Last December I announced three award winners of the “Working Hard, Making a Difference Award” that honors those tribal partners in law enforcement that deserve some recognition for the efforts he or she has made to improving public safety. One of those recipients is Henry Devereaux.

Henry Devereaux is originally from Browning Montana and is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe. Henry started his law enforcement career as a police officer in Browning in 1971. While in Browning, Henry served as the head of the juvenile justice program, which at the time, was one of the first departments in the country to operate a 638 contract. Henry also served as a criminal investigator.

In 1976, Henry started his college career at Weber State and ended at the College of Great Falls where in 1981 he earned a BS in sociology. He also earned an associates degree in criminal justice.

Also in 1981, Henry contracted with the Blackfeet Tribe to help with an effort to convert the tribal law enforcement program to BIA.

In 1982, Henry started as a patrolman with the Montana Highway Patrol. He retired as a Sergeant in 2007. Of the 25 years in uniform, he spent 23 of them the sole enrolled tribal member on the Montana Highway Patrol.

In January of 2009, the Blackfeet Tribe called upon Henry to assist it in converting the BIA police force into a tribal police department. Henry was hired as the Acting Public Safety Director. In December of 2010, the conversion occurred, but not without its challenges.

It is my belief that Henry helped the team stay focused throughout the process. Henry brought a lifetime of experience, humor, and pragmatism to the task and is a worthy recipient of the “Working Hard, Making a Difference Award.”

- Mike Cotter, U.S. Attorney, District of Montana

Updated July 8, 2015