Remarks as Delivered
I am pleased to join you for this important event, on a day the President has dedicated to highlighting the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous persons. This is an opportunity to reflect on the violence endured by far too many Native persons for far too long. It is also a chance to reaffirm our commitment to bringing justice and answers to grieving communities.
Today marks a major milestone in those efforts, as we take the next step in launching our joint Commission under the Not Invisible Act. The mission is an essential one — to reduce violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives. Today, you’ll hear from several Tribal leaders about how important the Commission is to that work, and I would like to extend special thanks to Secretary Haaland for her leadership here, both during her time in Congress and through the Department of the Interior’s efforts to establish this Commission. Today’s announcement is a testament to her dedicated work, and to the many people across Native communities who fought to make their voices heard.
The Department of Justice is committed to supporting the work of the Commission. We are pleased that the Director of our Office of Tribal Justice, Tracy Toulou, will serve as a co-chair of the Commission, and that he will be joined by representatives from across the Department, including from both our law enforcement and grantmaking components. No one agency can solve this problem alone, and we are also grateful that the Commission will include representatives from our partners at the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services.
But it is the appointees just announced by Secretary Haaland — who come from outside the federal government — who will form the backbone of the Commission. These Commissioners represent a diverse range of experiences, expertise, and perspectives, and — critically — include survivors who can speak firsthand to the urgency of the Commission’s work. They also include Tribal leaders and members, who know best what their communities need when it comes to making them safer. The Commission will issue recommendations to both the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior on how to improve intergovernmental coordination, as well as how to identify best practices for federal, state, local and Tribal law enforcement when responding to the violence directed at American Indians and Alaska Natives. I know that Native voices have not always been heard on these issues, but this Administration is committed to doing better, and today’s announcement reflects that commitment.
More broadly, the Commission also demonstrates the emphasis that the Biden-Harris Administration has placed on addressing the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous people. Last November, the President issued a new Executive Order, which reflected our whole-of-government response to promoting public safety in Native communities. The same day, I launched a new Steering Committee, which is dedicated to marshaling the Justice Department’s personnel and resources to the MMIP crisis. Since it launched, the Steering Committee has made Tribal engagement the cornerstone of its work, including through consultations and engagement with stakeholders.
While those conversations are ongoing, the department is already moving to address the concerns we’ve heard from you.
First, we’ve heard a clear and consistent message that the department must do more to reach Native victims, survivors and families. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that today we are creating a new position to spearhead our efforts: a National Native American Outreach Services Liaison. The Liaison will work in our Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys and help ensure that victims and their families have a voice within the department as they navigate all stages of the criminal justice system
This new position is part of a larger effort to raise awareness and increase outreach on the MMIP crisis. Last month, the department launched a new page on our Tribal Justice and Safety website dedicated to elevating the issue of MMIP. This new website serves as a central hub of resources for families and victims, and also promotes transparency on the department’s law enforcement efforts.
Last week, I also had the opportunity, along with Secretary Haaland, to celebrate the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and its important provisions to promote safety in Tribal communities. That includes expanded Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction, which recognizes the authority of Tribal courts to exercise jurisdiction over crimes of family violence, including child abuse, that too often are precursors to missing or murdered person cases.
Of course, we know that there is much more work to do, and this day is a reminder of just how critical those efforts are. Today, and every day, the federal government must be committed to working with Tribal nations to address the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous people, and I expect the Commission to play a major role in doing so. The Department of Justice is eager to support — and learn from — the Commission’s work.