The Justice Department is working to bring “lasting change” in how it handles American Indian issues, according to written testimony from Attorney General Eric Holder submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Holder highlighted various efforts to reach out to American Indians, including the creation of the Nations Leadership Council, which will be composed of tribal 12 leaders, who will meet twice a year to advise the Attorney General on issues affecting Indian country. The Attorney General first announced his decision to establish the council at a DOJ tribal listening session in Minnesota last month.
“By statute and because of its government-to-government relationship with tribes, the United States has a legal duty and moral obligation to address violent crime in Indian country and to assist tribes in their efforts to provide for safe tribal communities,” Holder said in his written testimony. “The Department takes this obligation seriously and is working actively with tribes and Federal agencies to improve all aspects of law enforcement in Indian country.”
Holder said crime in Indian country is “dire.” DOJ is already working with tribal communities to improve public safety and is reassessing its grants to tribal courts, according to the Attorney General.
“Although we have already begun to take action to improve the Department’s
effectiveness in addressing our responsibilities toward Native Americans, a great deal more must be done,” Holder said. “We are working to ensure that these discussions with the tribes will provide the foundation for lasting change in this area.”
The Attorney General also said the Justice Department is improving its efforts to enforce voting rights laws in Indian country. He said the Civil Rights Division intends to bring a suit against Shannon County, S.D., for allegedly failing to defend the voting rights of members of the Lakota tribe, who have limited English proficiency. This would be the first case to defend American Indian voting rights since the Bill Clinton administration, according to Holder.
American Indians could be a pivotal voting block for President Barack Obama, if he runs for reelection in 2012. American Indians tend to vote for Democrats, according to Laura Harris, executive director of Americans for Indian Opportunity, a non-profit American Indian advocacy group, and could provide critical votes for Obama in Western swing states like South Dakota.
We reported earlier month about the significance of the American Indian vote in an article about DOJ Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation and has the support of several tribal leaders.