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US attorneys, law enforcement agencies to place new focus on reducing violent crime on tribal lands

In a memorandum, Monaco declared it a priority of the Department of Justice to address the disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as high rates of indigenous persons reported missing.

Crow Creek reservation.jpg
The Crow Creek Indian Reservation. (Republic file photo)
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WASHINGTON — United States Attorneys and law enforcement agencies across the nation will place more emphasis on solving violent crimes committed on tribal lands after direction from one of the highest legal offices.

During the fourth convention of the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls, Lisa O. Monaco, deputy attorney general of the United States, issued a directive to all U.S. Attorneys and law enforcement component heads addressing public safety in Indian country, including violence directed at indigenous women, youth and children.

In the United States Code, "Indian country" is an official term defined as "all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government."

In a memorandum, Monaco declared it a priority of the Department of Justice to address the disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as high rates of indigenous persons reported missing.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Native American and Alaska Native communities have struggled with high rates of assault, abduction and murder of women for decades.

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Citing a 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, the BIA said that nearly 85% Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, including over 56% who have experienced sexual violence.

"Community advocates describe the crisis as a legacy of generations of government policies of forced removal, land seizures and violence inflicted on Native peoples," the BIA's webpage on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People reads.

To address this, Monaco's memorandum directed each U.S. Attorney with Indian country jurisdiction — along with their law enforcement partners at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service — to update and develop new plans for addressing public safety in Indian country.

“With this memorandum, we are reaffirming the department’s unwavering commitment to promoting public safety in Indian Country and to respecting Tribal sovereignty,” Monaco said. “Tribes know best how to make their communities safer, and Tribal engagement has thus been the cornerstone of the department’s review of its policies and procedures. Federal law enforcement agencies will continue to work diligently with our Tribal partners in support of public safety in Indian Country.”

In November 2021, the department established a Steering Committee dedicated to marshaling the department’s resources and personnel to address public safety and the issues of missing or murdered indigenous persons. The Steering Committee undertook a review — in close consultation with Tribal leaders and stakeholders — of the department’s relevant guidance, policies and practices to improve the law enforcement response in Indian country.

Monaco’s memorandum sets forth needed updates, which account for significant legal and legislative developments in the intervening decade, including the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, Savanna’s Act, the Not Invisible Act of 2019 and the 2013 and 2022 reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act.

It also recognizes that the department’s law enforcement components are essential to investigating crimes in Indian country and directs those agencies to adopt their own guidelines, policies and protocols to address the unique public safety challenges in Indian country.

In particular, the memorandum instructs department prosecutors and law enforcement officers to update their operational plans, policies, and protocols to better coordinate with tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies; support victims, survivors and their families in a victim-centered and culturally-appropriate manner while addressing cases — including unsolved cases — regarding missing and murdered Indigenous people.

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The memorandum also directs U.S. Attorneys Offices and law enforcement agencies to better communicate with tribes to address priority public safety issues, including combating violence against women, youth and children and addressing the devastating consequences of drug trafficking and substance use disorder in Indian country.

Monaco's memorandum marks the first guidance from the Deputy Attorney General to U.S. Attorneys in Indian country since 2010, when then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden required each U.S. Attorney with Indian country jurisdiction to establish a structure and plan for addressing public safety in Indian country.

The directive came at the fourth convention of the Trilateral Working Group, which included senior government officials from the United States, Mexico and Canada, as well as Indigenous women leaders from all three countries. 

Full remarks from Monaco as well as the full text of the memorandum can be found on the Department of Justice's website.

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A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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