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. Due to this change in FY 2003, four previously ineligible tribes were awarded TVA grants. In FY 2006, 30 grants were awarded across the Nation. 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. In FY 2005, OVC provided approximately $3 million to support this important mission. 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.

In FY 2006, OVC hosted the first-ever National VOCA-Tribal Victim Assistance and Compensation Conference to improve the ability of tribal programs to understand the VOCA funding application process, as well as to improve the states’ understanding of how tribes complete a VOCA application and to increase their awareness of underserved victims in Indian Country.

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 10 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 10th National Indian Nations Conference was held December 7–9, 2006; conference agenda and presentation materials are available at the Tribal Institute's Web site.

In addition to its traditional emphasis on promising practices and training, the conference fostered an interdisciplinary strategy that combines legal, law enforcement, and victim assistance approaches to responding to American Indian victimization. The goal of the conference was 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 December 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.

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). In FYs 2005 and 2006, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys sponsored more than 10 training conferences. Conference attendees included native and nonnative service providers, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, tribal prosecutors, tribal elders, and tribal victim advocates.

Training topics included family violence and child exploitation, methamphetamine- and drug-endangered children, sexual assault and stalking, Internet crimes, identity theft, and human trafficking. 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.”)

Counseling and Faith-Based Services for Crime Victims in Indian Country

The high rate of crime in AI/AN communities and villages is reflected in numerous studies, demonstrating the need for victim assistance programs to help victims cope with and heal from crime. Many rural, remote AI/AN communities are impoverished, isolated, and lack victim assistance services.

Crime victims, like others in crisis, turn to spiritual leaders for support in times of need. When violence is experienced, religious or spiritual questions are often raised. Although members of the clergy, spiritual leaders, and traditional healers are often experienced with issues arising from a range of social justice problems, they are frequently not familiar with the particular dynamics of crime victimization. In contrast, victim assistance programs possess the knowledge and practical resources necessary to respond to the immediate needs of crime victims. They may not be well-equipped, however, to address the profound spiritual crisis that may be brought on by a criminal act.

This program aids AI/AN communities by establishing and improving the partnership between faith-based organizations, spiritual leaders, traditional healers, and victim service programs as well as by developing Best Practices/Successful Strategies that can be replicated in other underserved communities. Counseling services should be made available to all victims, regardless of faith or religious belief. OVC supports projects that address the needs of unserved and underserved victims, particularly those victimized by crimes such as child abuse, sexual assault, homicide, elder abuse, driving while intoxicated, and gang violence.

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 Statistical Profile, 1992–2002, December 2004, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 203097.

Back to Contents