Remarks as delivered
Good day. It is my pleasure to speak to you on this last day of the symposium on missing or murdered Indians and Native Americans. The Department of Justice is committed to our efforts to combat the high rates of violent crime in local communities and improve the federal response to reports of missing or murdered Native Americans or Indians. We have received over 1,000 applications from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions to take this training, and this impressive level of interest shows that our commitment is shared by federal, state, and tribal justice and social workers.
I would also like to congratulate Leslie Hagan and the Department’s National Indian Country Training Initiative, as well as our partners in the Departments of Interior and Health and Human Services, for creating this program and providing this program that actually provides them with the training and support needed to Address common challenges in the investigation of missing persons in Indian countries and in the prosecution of cases of murdered indigenous people. We work with state, local and tribal governments to find solutions and answers to the problems of missing or murdered indigenous people, and I would like to highlight four specific initiatives designed to make a difference in tribal communities.
The first is information sharing. This is of course vital in all criminal investigations and in all law enforcement agencies, but it is especially important when we conduct investigations into the most vulnerable among us. The ability to share information and access government criminal databases is critical to solving criminal cases and getting answers to families. Historically, some tribes have encountered a variety of obstacles in their efforts to share records through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, commonly known as the NCIC. For this reason, the Department of Justice launched the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) in August 2015 and expanded the program annually to give tribes access to national crime information systems for state-authorized criminal and non-criminal purposes. TAP enables participating nationally recognized tribes to serve and protect the citizens of their nations by ensuring the exchange of critical data through the Criminal Justice Information Services or CJIS, systems and other national crime information systems.
TAP also helps tribes protect their communities in a number of ways:
- By entering protection orders available for enforcement on and outside of tribal lands
- By registering sex offenders in accordance with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
- By entering information to prevent illegal weapon purchases
- By entering arrest warrants to investigate and enforce reservations
- Through documentary and conviction dates and
- By accessing investigative documents from other law enforcement agencies
The ministry had previously announced the selection of an additional 12 nationally recognized tribes to participate in the expansion of TAP. There are now 108 tribes with over 350 tribal government agencies participating in TAP.
Another initiative is the FBI Indian Country Missing Persons webpage. The FBI, of course, investigates federal crimes committed in nearly 200 Indian reservations nationwide, and shares federal jurisdiction with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. May 5thNSEarlier this year, on the Day of the Discovery of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, the FBI launched a website devoted to cases of missing people in the Indian country. Through this website, the FBI is soliciting public support and information on the cases featured on the website. And to further facilitate the exchange of information, some of these cases have posters that have been translated into Navajo.
Another initiative is the Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country Training Initiative. Again, it is crucial to train law enforcement agencies to basically add extra boots to tackle the challenges we face.
One challenge in investigating cases in tribal communities is the limited number of law enforcement personnel and frequent changes in the tribal police force. Providing a Special Law Enforcement Commission (SLEC) issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for tribal and local law enforcement officers … that’s just one way to get additional “boots on the ground” as I said. A SLEC enables officials to enforce federal criminal laws in the Indian country, so the commission program is a key force multiplier to increase our ability to respond to cases of missing or murdered indigenous people. And one of the criteria for getting a SLEC commission is successfully completing the Department of Justice’s Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country course … where attendees will learn about a variety of topics including search and seizure issues, Indian federal law, federal criminal proceedings, the law on the rights of crime victims and how to investigate sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse crime in tribal communities.
Prior to the pandemic, the CJIC course was offered in various locations around the country, with approximately 450-550 members of the tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies completing the course annually. Now, due to the pandemic, we have started offering virtual sessions of these training courses and we have been able to expand our reach significantly, resulting in nearly 5,000 tribal and local law enforcement officers attending the training as of August 2020.
Another initiative is the law against violence against women. Domestic violence and sexual assault are some of the leading causes of missing or murdered indigenous women. These topics are particularly important to me because at the beginning of my career, even before I was a lawyer, I was serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee for then Senator Biden, when he laid the foundation for the original passage of the original Violence Act against Women of 1994.
The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 provides funding for tribes and recognizes the role of tribal self-government and culturally engaging services in effectively combating violence against indigenous women. Since then, every revision of the Violence Against Women Act has strengthened tribal rules, and we at the Justice Department urge Congress to act soon to pass a Violence Against Women Act of 2021 that will provide additional tools and resources for the tribes that support it need to protect survivors in their communities. Today the law against violence against women is more critical than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit overwhelmed communities particularly hard, placing domestic and sexual violence survivors at greater risk. Some survivors had to find shelter with the perpetrators, while others became homeless with increasing economic losses; Rape crisis centers struggled to maintain contact with customers through Zoom; and domestic violence shelters struggled to adapt public health protocols to their crowded conditions. Violence Against Women Law funded programs administered by the Office of the Department of Violence Against Women have been a lifeline for these victims.
The Department will continue to support the tribes in their efforts to protect women in their communities from domestic and sexual violence, and we support the expansion of the special criminal justice system for domestic violence to enable participating tribes to identify non-Indian perpetrators of sexual violence, Accountability for sex trafficking and domestic violence Violence against underage victims, stalking, abuse of the elderly, and attacks on police officers when they commit crimes on tribal territory.
To the many tribal leaders and lawyers who have worked tirelessly for years to ensure that tribal justice issues and the safety of the Indian people remain a major focus in the re-approval process of the Violence Against Women Act, rest assured that the Department of Justice is a committed partner in this important work.
So, I just want to close by acknowledging that we in the Justice Department understand and know that for the families and friends of the missing or murdered person, life is divided in half – before and after your loved one disappears or is murdered. As the Attorney General said on this year’s Information Day for Missing or Murdered Indigenous People, “Generations of Alaskan Indians and Native Americans have experienced violence or mourned a murdered or missing family member or loved one. The lasting effects of such trauma and suffering are spreading in their communities. “
My Justice Department colleagues and I look forward to working with you to address the high numbers of missing or murdered indigenous peoples. Thank you for the important work you are doing in your communities and for participating in this symposium. Together we can find answers and lasting solutions to the public safety challenges tribal communities face. Thank you for having me.