Good morning! I am delighted to be with you all in New Orleans, the traditional and sacred homeland of the Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma and Biloxi peoples.
I believe it is crucial that we recognize the original, rightful and continuing stewards of this land. However, this recognition means little if it is not accompanied by actions under the leadership of tribal defenders and survivors.
This is why it is so important for OVW to be here: to be guided by the voices of all who are here in this room today.
Our work is guided by the principle that we cannot end violence against Native American and Alaska Native women without centering tribal sovereignty. And all of OVW’s work — not just our Tribal Affairs division, but all of our grants and policies — is only effective when informed by tribal leaders and designees.
In this vein, under the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA – the Ministry of Justice, in coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Human Services, organizes an annual consultation of government-to-government with tribal leaders on responding to violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. OVW is honored to plan and host the consultation, which we held in Alaska for the first time last year.
Every year at consultations, we hear powerful and sometimes heartbreaking testimonies from tribal leaders and designates who experience the unbearable devastation of losing a loved one – of not knowing if a missing person will ever return.
We cannot underestimate the role that sex trafficking plays in these cases. Years ago, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC) was the first to tell me about the shocking rates of sex trafficking in Indian Country: MIWSAC told me that girls were being recruited or even abducted while awaiting bus. MIWSAC always leads the way by documenting the problem and identifying strategies to stop it.
This year we did site visits in Alaska, and we heard that young Alaskan Natives who leave home for Anchorage are approached by traffickers within days of arriving. We heard of Alaska Native youth in foster care in Ketchikan who had been trafficked, although they did not identify as victims and needed culturally specific responses that met them there. where they were. And we have heard about the role of fishing fleets and extractive industries in exacerbating sex trafficking.
Tribes need tools to solve this problem.
Last year, the VAWA was re-authorized and restored the inherent sovereign jurisdiction of tribes to tribes to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of sex trafficking, among other offenses – including sexual violence and child abuse in the context of the domestic violence – committed on tribal lands.
The law also extends this jurisdiction to Alaska Native villages, which were excluded from the previous legal framework. These victories for tribal sovereignty are due to the determined advocacy of so many represented at this conference.
If you’ve ever doubted your voice counts in Washington, watch VAWA. People said it couldn’t be done, but you did it.
And you have worked for these historic victories because you are in community with those who are directly impacted. Yourselves are impacted. You support survivors every day, and COVID-19 has introduced a whole new set of changing circumstances for you to overcome.
So, I want to thank you not just for your work on VAWA 2022, but for being here today, and my special thanks to Nicole Matthews and everyone at MIWSAC, Men as Peacemakers, the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and Mending the Sacred Hoop for gathered for this incredibly important conference.
Addressing the disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by Indigenous people, including sexual abuse and sex trafficking and, relatedly, the high rates of missing Indigenous people, is a priority not only for OVW, but for the entire Department of Justice.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis – or MMIP – requires trauma-informed and victim-centered responses from across the Department of Justice.
Last year, the Department launched an MMIP page with helpful resources for survivors and their loved ones, tribal communities, law enforcement agencies and officers, and service providers. This can be found at justice.gov/Tribal/mmip.
But we know we have more to do, and we are guided in this work by the words of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, in her directive creating a Department of Justice steering committee to address the MMIP crisis. “The ministry recognizes that the challenges faced by Tribes are best served by tribal solutions, and so the Steering Committee should make tribal engagement a cornerstone of its work. I want to reiterate that “the challenges faced by tribes are best addressed through tribal solutions”.
I sit on the Not Invisible Act Commission, and I’m proud to see these tribal solutions at the heart of the commission’s work.
But of course, these tribal solutions need funding to succeed, and we want to support you. We want to invest in you and help you succeed once you get those federal funds. We are posting new grant solicitations – some are already online now – and I must encourage you to apply. Most of our grants prioritize tribal organizations or tribal governments in one way or another, so please review all of our available solicitations and not just the tribe-specific ones. Information about our grants, areas of application and how to apply can all be found on our website, and we have provided information material for you to pick up.
I myself have been an applicant and recipient of a grant, so I know it’s not as simple as just saying “apply!” We’re working hard to streamline applications, and our Tribal Affairs Division has done a great job revising and streamlining applications — especially for our grants to help tribes implement this newly expanded special tribal criminal jurisdiction.
Another opportunity to build your own capacity and help OVW fund more tribal organizations is to be a peer reviewer of grant applications. The peer review process involves active professionals in the field who evaluate applications against the criteria of the RFP and select the best of the bunch. When you act as a peer reviewer, you get behind-the-scenes insight into how to be a successful candidate.
You also bring your unique expertise. You help ensure that applications from tribes and tribal organizations are reviewed by people who understand those communities, by people from those same communities, by people who know what culturally specific services look like. You can visit the OVW website for more information and complete the recruitment form to submit via email.
I want to end by thanking the survivors in the audience. To all who have struggled and who are here today to turn this pain into action: we see you. We are with you. We will fight side by side with you. We will change the world together.
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