DOJ Supports Permanent Office of Tribal Justice
By Andrew Ramonas | June 26, 2022 6:22 pm

The Justice Department supports the creation of a permanent DOJ Office of Tribal Justice with a presidentially-appointed head, according to a DOJ spokesperson.

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 tribal justice issues. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is considering legislation that would make OTJ a permanent division within the Justice Department.

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said in a statement submitted to the panel yesterday that the Justice Department supports the creation of a permanent OTJ – like the Office of Legal Counsel – but not the establishment of a permanent tribal justice division – like the Civil Rights Division. He said the OTJ would work better as a permanent office because divisions are “generally large litigating components” 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. “The Department agrees that it is time to recognize OTJ as a critical and permanent entity within DOJ.”

This is only the latest in a series of efforts by the Justice Department to reach out to Indian tribes. The Justice Department is already doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to tribal justice programs through grants and the Recovery Act, including $225 million for tribal correctional facilities. Last week, Perrelli said Attorney General Eric Holder will hold the Tribal Nations Listening Conference later in the year to help address the concerns of tribal leaders. Perrelli and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden also plan to hold smaller meetings with Indian tribes.

This new emphasis on tribal affairs by the DOJ has delighted members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Senate Indian Affairs Chair Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said he was shocked when he read a Washington Post article that noted DOJ’s emphasis on tribal issues.

“I almost swallowed by Grape Nuts whole from my cereal,” Dorgan said.

But not all senators are happy with how the Justice Department is handling crime in Indian country.

Republican Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett criticized Justice Department for the force it used during a high-profile raid earlier this month on people who allegedly took Indian artifacts from tribal lands in Utah. Hatch said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Holder last week that the use of more than a 100 armed agents to arrest a dozen alleged perpetrators for non-violent crimes was “unnecessary and brutal.” Two of the alleged thieves committed suicide following the raid.

Holder defended the actions of the Justice Department during the hearing last week. He said the DOJ agents used the “appropriate amount of force” in the raid.

“The arrests that were done were felony arrests,” Holder said.

Hatch said the raid was a “dog and pony show.” The Justice Department issued a big news release and held a June 10 press conference in Utah with Ogden, Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“I am questioning the motives of some of the higher-ups at Justice and at Interior,” Hatch said.

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