On October 28–29, 2009, officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and 382 representatives of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes convened in St. Paul, MN, to participate in a DOJ-sponsored Tribal Nations Listening Session. The goal of the session was to allow tribal leaders and senior DOJ officials to discuss the serious crime and public safety challenges in Indian country and collaborate on long-term solutions to these problems.
In his address to the session, Attorney General Eric Holder stressed the importance of improving dialog and partnerships between the federal government and tribal governments. He announced the creation of a Tribal Nations Leadership Council that will meet biannually to coordinate efforts between DOJ and AI/AN governments. The Attorney General also stated that to further facilitate dialog and establish enduring relationships between his office and tribal leaders, he would personally visit several AI/AN communities over "the next year and beyond."
Topics discussed with tribal representatives included seeking support for tribal justice programs, ending violence against women, and implementing and/or sustaining specific programs for tribal youth. Speaking about the violence in tribal communities, Attorney General Holder said:
We must act now to protect youth in Indian country. Violence against children doesn't just impact the child, or the child's family. It devastates entire communities, because it leads to so many other forms of violence. When children witness or experience violence in the home, it affects how they feel, how they act, and how they learn. Without intervention, children who are exposed to violence are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization, and, perhaps most tragically, committing violence later in their own lives. . . . And no woman, wherever she lives, should ever be a victim of violence. We must work together to eradicate these twin plagues.
Holder announced the distribution of nearly $400 million in fiscal year 2009 federal grants to support tribal justice initiatives. The funds, awarded to more than 25 programs, include:
Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli also addressed the session.
Signaling the high priority placed by the entire Administration on addressing the needs of Indian country, President Obama followed up the DOJ Listening Session with a day-long White House Tribal Nations Conference at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, DC, on November 5, 2009. Delivering the opening and closing remarks at the conference, President Obama said, "Today's sessions are part of a lasting conversation that's crucial to our shared future." The event, moderated by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, featured audience participation in panel discussions on public safety, housing, economic development, and a range of other issues. Top officials who participated in the discussions included the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Energy, Commerce, Agriculture, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
OJJDP has a decade-long commitment to serving youth in Indian country. The Office administers the Tribal Youth Program (TYP), which supports tribal efforts to prevent and control delinquency and improve tribal juvenile justice systems for AI/AN youth. Since fiscal year 1999, OJJDP has awarded 321 grants to 299 federally recognized tribes to help them develop and implement culturally sensitive programs in the five following categories: prevention services to impact risk factors for delinquency, interventions for court-involved tribal youth, improvements to the tribal juvenile justice system, alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs, and mental health program services. A report recently released by the American Youth Policy Forum and OJJDP shows how TYP is improving the lives of at-risk youth and strengthening their families in Indian country.