The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved legislation today by voice vote that would give the Justice Department Office of Tribal Justice a presidentially appointed head.
The Office of Tribal Justice was created under a federal statute in 1995, but exists at the discretion of the Attorney General. OTJ serves as the DOJ’s point of contact with Indian tribes on justice issues.
Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said in a statement submitted to the panel in June that DOJ supports the creation of a permanent OTJ – akin to the status of the Office of Legal Counsel – but not the establishment of a permanent tribal justice division – like the Civil Rights Division.
The original legislation included language for a permanent tribal justice “division.” The bill reported out of committee today calls for a permanent “component,” according to a DOJ spokesperson. Perrelli said the Office of Tribal Justice would work better as a permanent component because divisions are usually large litigating units of the Justice Department.
“The Office facilitates coordination between Departmental components working on Indian issues, and provides a constant channel of communication for Indian tribal governments with the Department,” Perrelli said in the June statement. “The Department agrees that it is time to recognize OTJ as a critical and permanent entity within DOJ.”
The DOJ support for a permanent tribal justice is part of a broad effort to address law enforcement issues on Indian reservations.
Perrelli and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden met with tribal leaders in Seattle last month as part of a DOJ listening tour in Indian country. The DOJ officials are slated to visit tribal officials in Albuquerque, N.M. later this month and Minneapolis in October as part of the tour.
The Justice Department has also made millions of dollars in grant money available to Indian tribes, especially for programs that fight violence against women. The $787 economic stimulus bill enacted in February included $20.8 million for combatting violence against women on Indian reservations.