The Justice Department today released plans aimed at strengthening its efforts to fight crime in American Indian tribal lands.
The DOJ intends to make the Office of Tribal Justice a separate component within the Justice Department and will establish a “Tribal Nations Leadership Council” to help improve collaboration and communication between American Indian leaders and Justice Department officials, according to a DOJ memo. Currently the office is under the purview of the Deputy Attorney General, but is not a permanent entity with the Justice Department structure.
In addition, U.S. Attorneys who have American Indian reservations in their districts and DOJ officials who handle tribal grants will be required to meet with tribal leaders, the memo said. DOJ will also establish an American Indian task force to create guidance and strategies for prosecutions of crimes of violence against women in Indian country, according to the memo.
“The Justice Department embraces this responsibility and the principles of tribal sovereignty and Indian self-determination,” the memo said. “The Department, at all levels, is committed to developing a comprehensive communication and coordination policy with tribes that is predicated on robust tribal input.”
The plans, which were sent to Office of Management and Budget on Jan. 27, will be financed through existing DOJ funds, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman. The department received more than $237 million in its fiscal 2010 budget for Indian country prosecutions and criminal investigations. The department has also made millions of dollars in grant money available to America Indian tribes, especially for programs that fight violence against women.
The proposed fiscal 2011 DOJ budget includes nearly $450 million to fund initiatives in American Indian tribal lands. The budget request also included $1.8 million for expanding the Office of Tribal Justice, according to the spokeswoman.
The Office of Tribal Justice was created under a federal statute in 1995, but exists at the discretion of the Attorney General. The Office of Tribal Justice serves as the department’s point of contact with American Indian tribes on justice issues.
The plans are the latest in a series of Justice Department initiatives to fight Indian country crime, which former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said last month has hit “unacceptable levels” and is diminishing the quality of life for American Indians.
Last month, the DOJ announced a series of new Indian Country policies in an effort to combat the high level of crime there. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder and top DOJ brass held several meetings with tribal leaders as part of a listening tour through Indian country.
South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, chairman of the American Indian issues subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys, told Main Justice that the DOJ has taken great strides in addressing American Indian concerns.
“Tribal leaders have been heard in the past, but they haven’t been listened to,” Johnson said. He added: “[DOJ officials] have been listening to what tribal leaders have been telling us.”