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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Summit

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you. It is an honor to join this year’s Tribal Nations Summit, which is my third as Attorney General.

Thank you to President Biden for bringing us together and to Secretary Haaland for hosting us at the Department of the Interior.

I am especially thankful to the Tribal Leaders who have been participating in this summit for the past two days. I know you have had to take time away from your governance duties at home to be here. We appreciate your time and your commitment to the open and honest dialogue that we know is essential to our shared success.

To that end, I want to provide some updates on the Justice Department’s work over the past year on critical issues that are unique to Tribal communities, as well as how our broader work is taking into account Tribal interests.

First, I want to reaffirm that the Justice Department’s approach to our work together with Tribal communities continues to be guided by the core values of respect, humility, and honesty. We know that the strength of our government-to-government partnerships is critical to our shared future.

Second, I want to provide an update on a case that I discussed during last year’s Summit. I said then that the Justice Department had filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of a hotel and bar in South Dakota for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Native American customers.

As alleged in our complaint, the defendants both prevented Native Americans from booking rooms at the hotel and made public statements discouraging Native Americans from setting foot on the business’s property.

That kind of conduct is obviously unacceptable.

It is reminiscent of a long history of prejudice and exclusion that Native American communities have faced.

Last month, we announced that the Justice Department had successfully obtained a consent decree. The decree requires the hotel, bar, and individual defendants to issue a formal apology, and it stops one of those individuals from serving as an officer, exercising any management duties, or being on the premises for four years.

Moreover, our work to implement new policies, training, and a complaint process at that hotel and bar is ongoing. As I said last month, the Justice Department will continue to work alongside Native American communities to fulfill the promise of equal protection under the law.

I want to spend the rest of my time with you providing updates on the Department’s work in partnership with Tribal leaders and members to improve public safety in Tribal communities.

Central to that effort is our work to provide support to Tribal justice systems and Tribal law enforcement.

That is why, I am pleased to announce an important development in the partnership between the U.S. Marshals Service and Tribal law enforcement.

The U.S. Marshals Service has developed a legislative proposal to formalize its role in enforcing Tribal violent felony arrest warrants.

This would expand the practice that the Marshals Service has piloted over the last year to serve Tribal warrants at the request of, and in close coordination with, Tribal law enforcement and the Department’s Office of Tribal Justice.

This effort has successfully targeted extremely dangerous offenders.

We believe that expanding it and formalizing it will help to make Tribal communities safer.

This development also responds to a recommendation made last month by the Not Invisible Act Commission urging the Marshals Service to recognize Tribal warrants as they do state and local law enforcement warrants.

As another part of our effort to deepen the partnerships between federal and Tribal law enforcement agencies, we have expanded our Tribal Access Program. This program is an important tool for empowering Tribal law enforcement with access to the crime information they need to keep people safe. We now support 132 Tribes and more than 450 Tribal government agencies through this program.

The Justice Department has also continued to put its grant-making authorities to work to help strengthen Tribal justice systems and Tribal law enforcement. This year, the Office of Violence Against Women, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) provided more than $269 million, including over $70 million for the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside Formula program.

In addition, these funds have gone toward improving the handling of child abuse cases, combating domestic and sexual violence, supporting Tribal youth programs, and strengthening victim services in Tribal communities.

Another important milestone in our work together this year was the launch of the Alaska Pilot Program, which was established by the 2022 Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. As many of you know, the program enables designated Alaska Tribes to exercise special Tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit certain crimes in their Villages.

This launch was possible because of the Department’s close coordination and cooperation with Alaska Tribes. I know that our ongoing partnership is key to making the program a success.

We have also continued our work to confront the persistent and unacceptable violence that Native American communities and families have endured.

Over the past year, we have significantly increased the number of Assistant U.S. Attorneys dedicated to Indian Country prosecutions.

And the FBI has increased its investigative resources in some of the Indian Country field offices that were in most need of personnel.

We have also dedicated more funding to FBI Safe Trails Task Forces to build on the success they have had in bringing together agencies, including Tribal police departments, to combat public safety threats, violent crime, and drug trafficking.

As part of our work together to improve public safety in Tribal communities, we remain committed to addressing the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous persons.

In June 2023, the Justice Department announced the creation of a new Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Regional Outreach Program. That program will employ five Assistant United States Attorneys and five coordinators across the United States with the express mission of preventing and responding to these horrific tragedies.

The FBI also deployed Operation Not Forgotten across ten field offices from July through September of this year. That operation dedicated more than 40 agents, analysts, and specialists to investigating cases of missing women and children in Indian Country. It has already yielded results. Operation Not Forgotten has led to successful indictments, identifications of unidentified victims, and the recovery of one child victim.

Another area that requires our close coordination is responding to the fentanyl crisis, which is devastating communities in Indian Country and across the United States. I know many of you are working every day on the front lines to confront the fentanyl epidemic and save lives.

The Justice Department is committed to working with you to provide Tribes with information and resources to combat this deadly drug.

The DEA has been engaged in numerous cases in Tribal communities in coordination with Tribal law enforcement.

In just one example of that work, in April, the DEA and FBI worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Colville Tribal Police, Kalispell Tribal Police, and other law enforcement entities to conduct a multi-state operation. That action resulted in 17 arrests, 12 seized weapons, and the seizure of more than 160,000 fentanyl-laced pills, 80 pounds of methamphetamine, and other illicit drugs. Among the drugs we seized were several thousand of the rainbow-colored fentanyl-laced pills that the cartels design to attract young people.

In addition to coordinating our enforcement efforts, the Justice Department is also focused on supporting education and awareness efforts, as well as prevention, treatment, and recovery.

DEA’s Operation Engage has facilitated programs for Tribal youth, focusing on increasing drug prevention and awareness.

And our Bureau of Justice Assistance has provided training sessions for Tribal law enforcement, judges, and public safety personnel on our shared work to address fentanyl poisoning, including on the use of Narcan for fentanyl overdoses.

I want to thank all of you for being a part of this year’s Tribal Nations Summit.

More than that, I want to thank you for your commitment to working as partners to improve the safety and wellbeing of the Indian communities.

Your feedback and our ongoing dialogue inform so much of what we do as a Department, because we know that Tribes are navigating circumstances and complexities that can often only be understood through on-the-ground experience.

This was made very clear to me in August, when I went to Alaska and joined a roundtable with representatives of Alaska Native organizations in Anchorage. I had also planned to visit the Alaska Native Villages of Huslia and Galena to meet with Tribal leaders and representatives. I only made it to Galena.

We had a U.S. Marshals plane. We had a United States Air Force plane. And still, because of the weather, we were not able to get to Huslia. Had there been a law enforcement emergency, law enforcement would not have been able to get there. That experience made clear to me the challenges that Tribal communities face in a way that just reading a briefing paper would not possibly have done.

I have also held onto the conversations I had in October with the Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council. We discussed a wide range of public safety issues, including law enforcement, funding, litigation, policy initiatives, and specific public policy concerns, including the crises of missing or murdered Indigenous persons, violence against women, and substance abuse.

I look forward to continuing these conversations.

In addition to my conversations, Department leadership has continued to engage regularly with our Tribal partners. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco spent important time in Oklahoma meeting with Tribal representatives. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta also visited Alaska in October and went to Mille Lacs this summer. And Tracy Toulou, Director of the Office of Tribal Justice, joined me and the Associate Attorney General on our trips.

These visits have given all of us important frames of reference and personal connection to this work.

As leaders of your governments and representatives of your citizens, your insights are crucial.

I look forward to another year of working together as partners to create a safer future.

Thank you.


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