Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit
Summit Remarks as Delivered
November 16, 2021
Good afternoon. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to join the first Tribal Nations Summit in five years.
The Justice Department shares the President’s commitment, expressed in the Executive Order he signed today, to work in partnership with Tribal nations to support comprehensive law enforcement, prevention, intervention and support services.
We are committed to working together to make Tribal communities safer. We are committed to honoring and strengthening our nation-to-nation relationship. And we are committed to protecting the civil rights of Native Americans.
Almost thirty years ago, I helped then-Attorney General Janet Reno plan the first ever National Tribal Listening Conference. The conference took place over two days in New Mexico and was co-hosted by the Departments of Justice and the Interior.
A year after that first Listening Conference, Attorney General Reno formed the Office of Tribal Justice to provide our Tribal partners with a dedicated point of contact within the department. Today, the Office of Tribal Justice continues to be the vital center of the department’s contact with our Native partners.
What became clear to me working at the Justice Department under Attorney General Reno, and what guides our work on Tribal law and justice today, is the necessity of a direct and open dialogue with Tribal leaders and members.
When it comes to building on our nation-to-nation partnership, we understand the importance of open, honest conversations approached with respect, humility and sincerity. This means listening to you as leaders of your governments and representatives of your citizens. It also means responding respectfully to the thoughtful recommendations and information that you share with us.
That is why the department has already held six major Tribal consultations this year — more than in any previous year. Establishing and maintaining strong lines of communication is particularly important when it comes to fulfilling our responsibility to act as partners in making Tribal communities safer.
We acknowledge that our country has historically failed to meet the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people with the urgency and the resources it demands. We also recognize that solving this crisis requires that we work in partnership with one another. The President’s Executive Order will build on and expand our efforts to do exactly that.
Section 2 of the Executive Order requires the development of a comprehensive strategy for federal law enforcement’s efforts to prevent and respond to violence against Native Americans. We are eager to work with Secretary of the Interior Haaland to develop this plan. Earlier this year, Secretary Haaland and I announced that we will be creating the joint commission, the one required by the Not Invisible Act, to address the persistent violence endured by Native American families and communities.
Today, the Justice Department will announce the launch of a steering committee to address the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people. The committee will be co-chaired by the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and the Office of Tribal Justice. It will work with other agencies to develop the comprehensive plan that will be due to the President.
Under Section 3 of the Executive Order, the Justice Department will work with the Interior Department and other agencies to develop guidance and technical assistance on several issues, including the development of Tribal Community Response Plans.
The Justice Department has already started piloting these plans, which are driven by community needs, led by Tribes and supported by federal law enforcement. It is our hope that we will advance meaningful responses to cases of missing or murdered Indigenous people and serve as a blueprint moving forward.
We also understand how important it is that Tribal entities have resources to help reduce crime and support victims. This year, our Office for Victims of Crime expects to make awards totaling over $90 million through the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside grant program. These funds will help Tribal entities provide culturally appropriate victim services using strategies based on community need.
In addition, the administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget has requested more than $46 million in increases for the department’s Office on Violence Against Women’s Tribal-specific grant programs.
More broadly, through its Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation initiative, the department plans to issue $73 million in Tribal grants under one solicitation this year. Since that coordination started in 2010, it has awarded more than $1 billion in assistance to Tribal entities. As directed by the President’s Executive Order, we will continue to assess how to better support Tribal law enforcement and victim services programs.
The Justice Department’s U.S. Attorneys' Offices also have an important role to play as public safety partners with Tribal communities. Dozens of U.S. Attorneys' Offices sit in districts that include Tribal land. It is important to me that those offices work collaboratively and respectfully with sovereign Tribal governments.
That is why I am ensuring that all Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys in districts with Tribal land meet with experts from the Office of Tribal Justice and the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. Those meetings will help U.S. Attorneys learn about significant Tribal justice issues in their jurisdictions and about best practices for consulting with local Tribal members.
Finally, the Justice Department is making sure that its work on critical issues that are important to — even if not unique to — Tribal communities account for Tribal interests. Over the past eight months, we have doubled the size of the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section’s enforcement staff to protect the right of every eligible voter to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. This work includes ensuring that members of Tribal communities can exercise the right to vote.
We have also restored a stand-alone Office for Access to Justice within the department. This office will help support access to the courts and expand civil legal representation for those without representation, including those in Tribal communities.
Again, I want to thank President Biden for bringing us together for this summit. I know that the issues being addressed are historically complex and often painful. We are committed to working alongside you to take on these challenges in partnership, and with respect.
I look forward to our continued work together on behalf of Tribal communities, and for our shared future. Thank you.