Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Claire McCusker Murray Closing Remarks for the 2020 Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation

Thanks so much for that kind introduction, Laura.  And thanks to all the tribal leaders who joined us this week and helped to make the 15th Annual Violence Against Women Government-to-Government Tribal Consultation a meaningful step towards enhancing the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women and their communities.

I so enjoyed meeting with you at last year’s Tribal Consultation in Michigan, and I’m honored to be with you again today to provide some closing remarks. 

You have had the opportunity this week to share your thoughts, experiences, and recommendations with the Department.  I look forward to working with Laura and the staff at OVW to continue to address some of the challenges you have raised.

But my primary message to you is simple: The Department and the Administration are deeply committed to working with you to address the unacceptable rates of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States. 

And I want to leave you with this commitment from the Attorney General and the entire Department: We are proud to be your partners, and we will continue to work with you, side by side, to pursue justice.

At the start of this consultation, Laura mentioned some of the work that we have done this year to support American Indian and Alaska Native women, and I will try to not repeat the points she made.  I do think it’s important this year to review some of the positive steps the Department has taken since last year’s tribal consultation – in part because I’m so proud of the progress we have made, working in partnership with tribes, but also because I want to acknowledge that there is always more work to do.

Improved Responses to Missing or Murdered AI/AN Women

First, let me say a few words about what we have done to address the scourge of missing or murdered American Indian and Alaskan Native women.  No topic is more important, and the Administration has been extremely focused on raising awareness and adding resources in this area.

On November 26, 2019, the President signed an Executive Order that formed the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, also known as “Operation Lady Justice.”  The task force include 5 DOJ members who deserve recognition: Laura Rogers, someone you know well; Marcia Goode, Executive Director of the Task Force; Trent Shores, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma and Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee; Katie Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs; and Terry Wade, Executive Assistant Director, Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Through Operation Lady Justice, the Department is reviewing cold cases in Indian Country, strengthening law enforcement protocols, and working with tribes to improve investigations and information sharing.  The Task Force has already met with tribal leaders and tribal communities over 20 times to discuss how we can improve the law enforcement response to missing or murdered persons.  Through these listening sessions, several themes have emerged:

  • the need to improve the handling of missing person cases by making investigations more standardized and more transparent to families;
  • the need to ensure that our response efforts include men and boys;
  • the importance of focusing more of our funding, personnel, training, and volunteer programs to help in response efforts; and
  • the need to ensure that tribes are part of the solution as we jointly address this issue.

The work of Operation Lady Justice is ongoing, but these themes will help to guide our future actions.

In addition to Operation Lady Justice, in late 2019, Attorney General Barr launched a national strategy to address missing or murdered indigenous persons, known as the Initiative on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, or MMIP.  As part of this initiative, the Department is in the process of hiring MMIP coordinators in 11 states to serve with the U.S. Attorney’s offices in those states, as well as other offices that request assistance.  MMIP coordinators will work closely with tribal partners and others at the federal, state, and local levels to develop protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to missing person cases.

The MMIP initiative also calls for the deployment of the FBI’s most advanced response capabilities when needed, improved data collection and analysis, and training to support local response efforts.

Tribal Access to Federal Crime Information Databases

Let me now shift topics and briefly mention some of the successes we’ve seen over the past year in providing greater access to federal crime information databases.  In response to tribal leaders’ recommendations, DOJ has continued to expand the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (or TAP), and in 2020 we added 30 additional tribes for participation. The Department, along with the Department of Interior, is also working to add TAP kiosks at locations where the BIA Office of Indian Services delivers direct social services. When expansion of TAP kiosks to additional BIA locations is complete, TAP will serve over 400 tribal and BIA government agencies.

Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside Formula Program

I’d also like to say a few words about grants.  Discussion of the Department’s ongoing efforts to fund tribal programs through grants is always a critical element of each consultation, and this year is no exception.  Don’t worry – I’m not going to review all of the Department’s grant funding efforts, but I do want to make special mention of a program we established this year in direct response to comments we received from you.

Based on your feedback during tribal consultations and listening sessions, in Fiscal Year 2020, the Department’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) implemented an interim formula grant program for disbursing tribal set-aside funds under the Victims of Crime Act.  Under the Fiscal Year 2020 Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside Formula Program, the Department made 133 awards, totaling over $112.9 million, to over 200 tribes and tribal consortia.  The purpose of this program is to improve services for victims of crime in tribal communities.  For the same reason, OVC also established a dedicated Tribal Division to ensure appropriate staffing to implement this formula program and to serve our tribal grantees. We’re so proud of the progress we’ve made in this area.

Enforcement of Tribal Protection Orders

Finally, let me say a few words about the enforcement of tribal protection orders. At last year’s consultation, some of you expressed concerns about the lack of enforcement of tribal orders by state and local law enforcement.  I want you to know that we hear you, and that the Department is committed to finding lasting solutions to this problem.

OVW has supported a number of initiatives over the years to improve enforcement of tribal protection orders, including a project focused on Full Faith and Credit enforcement of tribal protection orders in Alaska.  In addition to these efforts, the Department works with state governments to devise solutions.  For example, in January of this year, the United States Attorney’s Office in Oregon issued joint guidance with the Oregon Attorney General on the enforcement of tribal protection orders. The guidance reinforces the principle that both state and federal law require tribal protection orders to be immediately enforceable in Oregon without any requirement to file or register the order in a database or court record.  Alaska, Washington, and California have issued similar guidance in the past. The United States Attorney’s Office and the Oregon Department of Justice plan to train law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, and community members on how to apply this guidance.

The Department believes that this type of collaboration across jurisdictions will help ensure that law enforcement understands and recognizes the importance of enforcing tribal protection orders.

I am grateful for all that the Department has done over the past year to reduce violence in tribal communities.  But we can’t sit back and rest on past successes.  This consultation process is inherently forward looking, and the Department is committed to using the information you have provided over the past four days to identify additional ways that we can make tribal communities even safer, especially for American Indian and Alaska Native women.

Thank you for sharing your time, your knowledge, and your wisdom with us this week.

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Author: November 2, 2020

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