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 acknowledge the original, rightful and continuing stewards of this land. However, that acknowledgment means little if not accompanied by action following the leadership of Tribal advocates and survivors.
That 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 driven by the principle that we cannot end violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women without centering Tribal sovereignty. And all OVW’s work – not just our Tribal Affairs Division but all our grants and policies – are only effective when they are informed by Tribal leaders and designees.
In that vein, under the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA – the Department of Justice, in coordination with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services, holds an annual government-to-government consultation with Tribal leaders on responding to violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. OVW is honored to plan and host the consultation, which we held in Alaska for the first time ever last year.
Every year at consultation, we hear powerful and sometimes heartbreaking testimony from Tribal leaders and designees who are living through the unbearable devastation of losing a loved one – of not knowing if someone missing will ever return.
We cannot underestimate the role that sex trafficking has 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 waiting for the bus. MIWSAC is still leading the way in documenting the problem and identifying strategies to stop it.
This year, we conducted site visits in Alaska, and we heard that Alaska Native youth who leave home for Anchorage are approached by traffickers within days of arriving. We heard about Alaska Native youth in foster care in Ketchikan who had been trafficked, though they wouldn’t have defined themselves as victims and needed culturally specific responses that met them where they were. And we heard about the role of fishing fleets and extractive industries in exacerbating sex trafficking.
Tribes need tools to address this.
Last year, VAWA was reauthorized and restored Tribes’ inherent sovereign jurisdiction to Tribes to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of sex trafficking, among other offenses – including sexual violence and child abuse in the context of domestic violence – committed on Tribal lands.
The law also expands this jurisdiction to Alaska Native villages, who were left out of the previous legal framework. These victories for Tribal sovereignty are thanks to the determined advocacy of so many represented at this conference.
If you have ever doubted that your voice counts in Washington, just look at VAWA. People said it couldn’t be done but you made it happen.
And you worked for these historic wins because you are in community with those who are directly impacted. You yourselves are impacted. You are supporting survivors every day, and COVID-19 introduced an entirely new set of shifting circumstances for you to overcome.
So, I want to thank you not only 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 bringing us together for this incredibly important conference.
Addressing the disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by Indigenous people, including sexual violence and sex trafficking and relatedly, the high rates of Indigenous people who are missing, is a priority not just for OVW but for the entire Department of Justice.
The missing and murdered Indigenous persons – or MMIP – crisis requires trauma-informed, 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. That can be found at justice.gov/Tribal/mmip.
But we know we have much more to do, and we are guided in that work by the words of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, in her directive creating a Justice Department Steering Committee to address the MMIP crisis, “The Department recognizes that challenges faced by Tribes are best met by Tribal solutions, and the Steering Committee should therefore make Tribal engagement the cornerstone of its work.” I want to reiterate, “the challenges faced by Tribes are best met by Tribal solutions.”
I serve on the Not Invisible Act Commission, and I am proud to see those Tribal solutions at the heart of the commission’s work.
But of course, those 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 some way, so please look at all our available solicitations and not just the ones specific to Tribes. Information on our grants, purpose areas, and how to apply can all be found on our website, and we’ve brought informational material for you to take.
I’ve been an applicant and a grantee myself, so I know it’s not as easy as just saying “apply!” We are working hard to make applications simpler, and our Tribal Affairs Division has done great work to revise and streamline applications – particularly for our grants to support Tribes in implementing that newly broadened 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 from the field assessing applications against the criteria in the solicitation and selecting the best in the pool. When you serve as a peer reviewer, you get a behind-the-scenes look at how to be a successful applicant.
You also bring your unique expertise. You help ensure that applications from Tribes and Tribal organizations are being reviewed by people who understand those communities, by people from those very communities, by people who know what culturally specific services look like. You can visit OVW’s website for more information and fill out the recruitment form to submit via email.
I want to close by thanking the survivors in the audience. To everyone who has struggled and is here today to turn that pain into action: we see you. We stand with you. We will fight side by side with you. We are going to change the world together.