OVC Focus On Series banner

American Indian and Alaska Native Communities

A recent study found that American Indians and Alaska Natives experience violence at more than twice the rate for the Nation.1 As part of its longstanding commitment to serving the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native communities, OVC established two major Indian Country initiatives: the Tribal Victim Assistance (TVA) Discretionary Grant Program, which began in 1989, and the Children's Justice Act (CJA) Partnerships for Indian Communities Discretionary Grant Program, which began in 1990. TVA has stimulated the growth of a responsive victim assistance network in Indian Country communities. TVA programs provide direct victim services such as crisis intervention, emergency services, 24-hour crisis hotlines, mental health counseling, hiring of victim advocates, recruitment of volunteers, emergency transportation of victims, court advocacy and accompaniment, and bilingual counseling services. CJA helps tribal communities improve the investigation, prosecution, and overall handling of child abuse cases—particularly cases of child sexual abuse—in a manner that increases support for, and lessens additional trauma to, the victim. To continue the growth of victim-focused programs in Indian Country, OVC funds several initiatives that explore new ways to support victims and victim service providers. Because these initiatives seek to provide culturally appropriate services for victims in Indian Country, each in some fashion supports the others.

Tribal Victim Assistance Program

In Fiscal Year 2003, OVC allocated $2.5 million to the Tribal Victim Assistance (TVA) Discretionary Grant Program and invited all federally recognized tribes in the United States to participate. Under the previous program* only tribes that were under federal criminal jurisdiction were eligible to apply. Under TVA, OVC supports projects that provide direct services to victims who are not under federal criminal jurisdiction. These projects include court accompaniment, advocacy, compensation assistance, emergency funds, counseling, crisis intervention, and training for law enforcement. The programs address the needs of unserved and underserved victims, particularly those victimized by child abuse, homicide, elder abuse, gang violence, and drunk driving. OVC is committed to providing TVA grantees with ongoing training and technical assistance, including support for leadership programs, long-term program sustainability, and mentoring between tribes. For more details, visit the TVA Training and Technical Assistance Project Web site.

*Formerly called the Victim Assistance in Indian Country (VAIC) Program.

Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities

The Children's Justice Act (CJA) Program supports demonstration projects that help American Indian and Alaska Native communities develop, establish, and operate programs to improve the investigation, prosecution, and overall handling of child abuse cases, especially cases of child sexual abuse. The funding supports the development and implementation of both comprehensive child abuse programs and child-sensitive policies and procedures for addressing child abuse cases in the tribe's criminal justice and child protection systems. The cases are handled in a manner that increases support for, and lessens additional trauma to, child abuse victims. The program's ultimate goal is to improve the capacity of existing tribal systems to handle serious child abuse cases by developing specialized services and procedures that address the unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native child abuse victims.

Training and Technical Assistance for Children's Justice Act Grantees

Since 1990, OVC has provided funding for training and technical assistance through the Children's Justice Act (CJA) Partnerships for the Indian Communities Discretionary Grant Program. Child abuse cases on Indian reservations may be investigated by tribal police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state and local authorities, or Bureau of Indian Affairs criminal investigators, and cases may be prosecuted in federal, state, or tribal courts. Formal protocols among these agencies may not exist, or they may be fragmented or fail to incorporate a multidisciplinary approach for responding to the abuse. Because of these variations in resources and services, training and technical assistance support are vital for CJA projects to achieve their goals and objectives.

The CJA training and technical assistance program provides comprehensive skill-building training and technical assistance to Indian tribes and nonprofit organizations that receive funding through the CJA Discretionary Grant Program. CJA provides funding directly to Indian tribes and tribal agencies to develop, establish, and operate projects that improve the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases. OVC ensures that all tribal programs receive training and technical assistance that will help them successfully implement CJA programs. For more information, visit www.tribal-institute.org.

VOCA-TVA Working Group

Crime is a serious problem in Indian Country. Victim services in Indian Country are inadequate, and victim assistance providers face unique challenges. In the past, tribal victim assistance programs and state Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) programs have encountered difficulties in their efforts to provide and fund services for tribes. Complaints from tribes have focused on VOCA funding decisions and criteria, compensation processes, and collaboration. Tribes have stated that American Indian and Alaska Native victims do not receive sufficient compensation from state programs and do not receive proportionate VOCA funding for their victim assistance programs. Conversely, states have had problems obtaining the appropriate paperwork from tribes and adapting to the complexities of changing tribal governments. Clearly, state VOCA administrators and Tribal Victim Assistance (TVA) Discretionary Grant Program directors need to collaborate and develop strategies that increase state VOCA funding of tribal programs and ensure tribal compliance with state funding requirements.

OVC provided funding to support continuing collaboration between American Indian and Alaska Native grantees and state VOCA victim assistance grantees through a series of working group meetings. Meeting attendees include state VOCA administrators and TVA program managers. The working group offers guidance and information to OVC about—

  • Identifying American Indian and Alaska Native consultants for the training and technical assistance database.
  • Identifying American Indian and Alaska Native organizations with capacity to deliver training and technical assistance in Indian Country.
  • Continuing discussions about increasing American Indian representation on decisionmaking boards, increasing the availability of compensation to American Indian and Alaska Native victims, and improving the relationship between VOCA and American Indian and Alaska Native programs.
  • Replicating the success of state VOCA and TVA programs that have collaborated and improved communication and funding.
  • Increasing TVA's ability to sustain victim services beyond federal funding.

American Indian/Alaska Native Victim Assistance Academy

Recognizing the need for a skills-based, culturally sensitive education and training program for service providers, allied professionals, law enforcement, and other professionals assisting victims in Indian Country, OVC sponsored the design and development of an American Indian/Alaska Native Victim Assistance Academy. In August 2005, OVC's Training and Technical Assistance Center piloted the American Indian/Alaska Native Victim Assistance Academy at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota. This Academy was the result of 3 years of planning by OVC. Approximately 40 participants from the field of tribal victim assistance, including federal and tribal law enforcement officers, victim advocates, direct service providers, and prosecutors attended the Academy. An evaluation of the pilot is underway.

Indian Nations Conference

Since 1988, OVC has sponsored nine national conferences for tribal, state, and federal professionals who work on behalf of victims in Indian Country. Attendees include victim service providers, victim advocates, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, judicial personnel, social service personnel, and health and mental health professionals. The conferences provide training on promising practices for establishing effective victim assistance services and present models for coordinating tribal, federal, state, and local resources in response to victims in Indian Country. The 9th National Indian Nations Conference was held December 9–11, 2004; conference agenda and presentation materials are available at the Tribal Institute's Web site.

In 2005, OVC announced the 10th National Indian Nations Conference, scheduled for the spring or summer of 2007. In addition to its traditional emphasis on promising practices and training, the conference will foster an interdisciplinary strategy that combines legal, law enforcement, and victim assistance approaches to responding to American Indian victimization. The goal of the conference is to improve how multidisciplinary professionals respond to the rights and needs of American Indian and Alaska Native victims and to improve the handling of cases of family violence and child abuse. More information will be posted at the Tribal Institute Web site.

Tribal Victim Assistance Evaluation and Assessment

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is conducting participatory evaluations of the Lummi Nation and the Passamoquoddy Tribal Victim Assistance programs, an OVC Tribal Victim Assistance (TVA) discretionary grant program initiative. The goal is to gain practical, measurable, and descriptive information on methods and efforts employed by TVA grantees in providing victim services in Indian Country. Evaluations of these programs will inform and enhance crime prevention, control, and criminal justice, and improve the quality of life for American Indians and Alaska Natives. In addition, the evaluations will provide feedback to the Department of Justice, NIJ, OVC, the grantees, federal stakeholders, and others in Indian Country regarding the processes and early outcomes of the TVA program. It is anticipated that the evaluation will be completed by September 2007.

MADD American Indian Outreach

According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System—a Government census of all fatal U.S. automobile crashes—more than 70 percent of all traffic-related fatalities in American Indian communities involve the use of alcohol. Consequently, OVC funded the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Native American Awareness Campaign to establish victim service programs that support American Indian victims and survivors of drunk-driving accidents. The MADD campaign highlights the victim services available to American Indians and works locally to develop culturally sensitive materials that outline those services as well as important tips for coping with victimization. A "Heritage Kit" was developed for the American Indian community that included a 15-minute video called "Path of Hope" that shows the effects of victimization through firsthand accounts from family members of drunk-driving victims. Individuals tell how the accidents happened, describe their devastating impact, and explain how MADD provided help that was sensitive to American Indian beliefs and culture. The kit also features awareness posters and brochures. For more details, visit the MADD Web site.

New Mexico Pueblos Children's Code Project

Child abuse and neglect is a major concern among New Mexico's pueblos and tribes, and many tribes lack adequate, culturally relevant tribal codes for addressing this problem. OVC's Training and Technical Assistance Center is supporting a group of consultants who are helping the pueblos of Acoma, Zuni, San Felipe, Santa Ana, and Taos develop or strengthen tribal codes to properly address the policies and procedures for handling child abuse and neglect cases. These policies and procedures provide much-needed guidance for social workers, law enforcement officials, and treatment providers about how to protect child victims. Under the auspices of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, the initiative will review existing children's codes, conduct site visits, and manage input from tribal leaders and judges. The project goals are to develop, implement, and enforce more comprehensive children's codes in Indian Country; guide child welfare and protection processes; and ensure that children's needs are adequately and efficiently met by their pueblo or tribe.

District-Specific Training Conferences in Indian Country

To advance Indian Country victim initiatives, OVC has provided speakers, logistical support, and attendee scholarships for district-specific training conferences in Indian Country (the conferences are sponsored by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices). For Fiscal Year 2005, conferences are scheduled in the following districts: Nevada; Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah; Wyoming; South Dakota, Nebraska, and North Dakota; and Kansas and Oklahoma. Conference attendees will include native and nonnative service providers, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, tribal prosecutors, tribal elders, and tribal victim advocates.

Training topics will include domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, forensic interviews, gang violence, crisis intervention, and victims' rights. Attendees will use the training to improve their skills, learn about victim resources, and learn ways to improve collaboration among tribal, state, and federal agencies involved with victims. The conferences offer opportunities for invaluable links between members of various American Indian tribes and federal agencies and, as a result, are a critical element in providing direct services and meeting the needs of underserved victims in Indian Country. (See also "Promising Practices, District-Specific Training Program.")

Sexual Assault Training in Indian Country

American Indian women suffer a high rate of sexual assault. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study on crime in Indian Country, American Indians have a higher rate of rape and sexual assault than any other demographic group studied. Yet, most advocates working with sexual assault victims in Indian Country do not have access to evidence-based training that incorporates key elements of traditional culture along with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)/Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) model of responding to victims. In 1997, OVC funded development of a Sexual Assault Advocate/Counselor Training curriculum. Although not finalized, the curriculum has been used to provide training in a number of jurisdictions. See Building Skills for Sexual Assault Responders: Sexual Assault Advocate/Counselor Training Curriculum.

OVC's Sexual Assault Training in Indian Country project will take the pilot curriculum and adapt it for training sexual assault victim advocates and other first responders in American Indian communities. This evidence-based curriculum includes key information on the SANE/SART model and the important role advocates play as part of a SART. The curriculum will be modified to include traditional, cultural, and spiritual elements based on input from American Indian advocates, then pilot tested in several Indian communities and revised based on feedback.

Blackfeet TRIAD Program

Tribal victim service programs report that elder abuse is on the rise but continues to be underreported, particularly in Indian Country. Thus, OVC awarded funding to the Blackfeet Child and Family Advocacy Center (Blackfeet Center) for the development of a promising practice called TRIAD for offering support and assistance to older victims in Indian Country. TRIAD brings law enforcement, senior citizens, and local groups together to promote senior safety, reduce elder abuse, and enhance the delivery of law enforcement services to older persons. The first TRIAD program began in 1988 with the cooperation of the American Association of Retired Persons, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Sheriffs' Association. Since then, many TRIADs have been established and have increased public awareness and decreased victimization of older people.

OVC has adapted a TRIAD elder abuse program to fit an Indian Country setting—the Blackfeet Reservation, where 25 percent of the population, or about 1,500 persons, are considered elderly. The Blackfeet Center also has provided technical assistance to the Zuni tribe in developing an elder abuse program and conducted mentoring visits at four other Indian reservations to help them adapt the TRIAD model.

Children's Advocacy Centers in Indian Country

Services to assist child abuse victims in Indian Country are scarce. Challenges include the remoteness of Indian Country in relation to existing services and cultural issues surrounding services that are not designed for American Indian children. Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs) are increasingly being established in urban areas to help victims recover from abuse and participate in the criminal justice process. Through a grant, OVC funded the National Children's Alliance to establish three new CACs on American Indian reservations. The three participating tribes are the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Funding will be used for program development, training and technical assistance, and cross mentoring. The CACs will work with their communities to develop multidisciplinary teams who will work to improve communication among tribal, local, and federal agencies in a way that minimizes trauma to child victims and improves evidence collection for the prosecution of child abuse.

Court Appointed Special Advocates in Indian Country

Child abuse victims must sometimes be involved with several different court systems to resolve the criminal and civil issues related to the child, the crime, and his or her caregiver. Systems can include the federal, state, and tribal criminal justice systems and the tribal abuse and neglect system. Children involved in these systems need an advocate who will look out for their interests. The National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program successfully trains volunteers to act as advocates for child abuse victims in court. Of the 900 CASA programs nationwide, only 22 are in Indian Country. This OVC project supports existing tribal programs through training, technical assistance, and program implementation efforts. It also provides three tribes with seed money to begin developing tribal CASA programs.

For more information about Court Appointed Special Advocates visit the National CASA Association Web site.


OVC continues to assist victims in Indian Country by providing much-needed resources, improving and increasing services, identifying promising practices, and adapting and replicating successful programs. In addition, OVC collaborates with other federal agencies to fund demonstration programs that help tribes and tribal organizations serve victims more efficiently. A particular focus is the strengthening of assistance for child victims in Indian Country. Through these collaborative efforts, OVC is working toward more sensitive and complete services for all American Indian and Alaska Native victims.

1. See American Indians and Crime: A BJS Profile, 1992–2000, December 2004, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 203097.

Back to Contents