WASHINGTON - A recently released report concluded the "federal government is largely to blame for the decades-old public safety gap in Native America." While the rest of the U.S. relies on locally and regionally based criminal justice systems, federal law forces Native America to do the opposite.
Nine law enforcement and judicial experts released a report before the White House Tribal Nations Conference on Nov. 13, which assessed the state of public safety and the criminal justice system on tribal land throughout the United States.
The Indian Law and Order Commission, created by the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) in 2010 to strengthen criminal justice for the 566 federally recognized tribes, traveled the country, put on town halls and hearings and listened to testimony in the field from Alaska to the East Coast.
According to the report, the commission's goal was to "to end the public safety gap-the legacy of failed Federal laws and policies-that makes Native American and Alaska Native communities frequently less safe, and often dramatically more dangerous, than the rest of our country."
"When Congress and the Administration ask why the crime rate is so high in Indian country, they need to look no further than the archaic system in place, in which Federal and State authority displaces Tribal authority and often makes Tribal law enforcement meaningless," the commissioners said.
The 324-page report called "A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer," made 40 unanimous recommendations to make Native America safer and more just.
Among those is a 10-year goal to eliminate the Indian country public safety gap by 2024, 100 years after Native Americans were granted the right to vote in federal elections.
Broadly, the recommendations are to respect and reinforce the power of local control, accountability and transparency in the tribal criminal justice system, protect all people on lands within the tribe's borders, while also respecting the federal constitutional rights of all citizens, and allocate money to bring the justice systems on tribal land up to the standards of other parts of the country.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, said the United States and tribal nations are poised to open a new era of government to government relationships.
He announced his department is working on a "Statement of Principles" with Native American leaders from tribes represented at the conference that will guide all the actions of the Department of Justice while working with the federally recognized tribes.
Holder said the statement of principles will institutionalize his commitment to Indian tribes, serving as a blueprint for reinforcing relationships, reforming the criminal justice system and aggressively enforcing federal laws and civil rights protections.
"It will codify our determination to serve not as a patron but as a partner in fighting crime and enforcing the law in Indian country," Holder said.
He also announced a new Honors Attorney General Indian Country Fellowship open to highly qualified law school graduates. The fellows will spend three years working on Indian country cases primarily in the U.S. Attorney's office. The fellows will also have opportunities to work in the offices of tribal prosecutors. The program's goal is to create a pipeline of legal talent with experience with federal Indian law, tribal law and Indian country issues.
"It will help to build the capacity to prevent violent crimes and to bolster public safety in each of the jurisdictions represented here today," Holder said.
He said his department's aspiration is move into the future with new goals in mind for tribal relationships with the federal government.
Holder said the goal is, "not to deny our past but to rise above it. Not to minimize our tumultuous history but to write a new chapter. Not to accept a reality that is short of the ideals we envision or the justice our citizens deserve but to stand together and speak with one voice to bring about the changes we seek."
The full report can be found at https://www.indianlawandordercommission.com.