Director Rosie Hidalgo Delivers Remarks to the Fifth General Assembly of the National Congress of American Indians’ 80th Annual Convention & Marketplace

Thank you very much to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and President Fawn Sharp for the opportunity and honor of addressing the Fifth General Assembly.

As the Director of the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) I am honored to serve in this role to help advance our mission to prevent and address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and other interconnected forms of violence, including sex trafficking.

For those unfamiliar, OVW is a grant-making component created to implement provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was originally enacted in 1994.

Since the inception of our office, we’ve provided over $10 billion to communities across the U.

S.

and Tribal nations to support work to prevent and address domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

This past year, year we awarded over $633 million in grants.

This marks my second tenure at OVW.

I had the privilege of serving as the deputy director of policy during the Obama-Biden administration, an invaluable experience.

This was nearly 10 years ago, following the reauthorization of VAWA in 2013, which included very important provisions recognizing the inherent sovereignty of tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian abusers in cases of domestic and dating violence.

Working at OVW presented me with a chance to delve further into ways to support Tribal communities, particularly the importance of Tribal sovereignty in advancing efforts to end violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.

More recently, I served at the White House Gender Policy Council, as senior advisor on gender-based violence, where I had the opportunity to support efforts to reauthorize and strengthen VAWA in 2022.

We also had the opportunity to relaunch the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls.

This initiative is a collaborative effort between the governments of the United States, Mexico and Canada, with the participation of Indigenous women leaders from all three countries, to lift up our national and regional commitments to addressing these critical issues.

Since I returned to OVW to serve as the director, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Tribal nations such as Muscogee Creek Nation, which hosted this year’s annual Violence Against Women Act Tribal Consultation.

Last month, I also had the opportunity to travel to Alaska with Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, where we met with Tribal leaders to discuss the public safety challenges Alaska Native Villages face as they work to keep families and communities safe.

I look forward to visiting more Tribal communities and meeting with their leaders.

At OVW, we have a Tribal Affairs Division that focuses on Tribal issues headed by Sherriann Moore from the Rosebud Sicangu’ Lakota Tribe.

The division has a team of 14 staff members and administers five Tribal grant programs.

In this past fiscal year, OVW awarded $68,196,866 to American Indian and Alaska Native communities to enhance responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and sex trafficking.

 
OVW has prioritized hiring more team members in or near Tribal communities and two new staff members in Alaska.

Several of the team members worked on victim services on reservations or with Tribal law enforcement, but most importantly, they are passionate about our office’s mission of reducing, preventing and ending gender-based violence and bringing services and justice within reach for victims and survivors.

However, this division and OVW cannot administer these funds without your input and guidance.

We are grateful for our longstanding partnership with the NCAI Violence Against Women Task Force and the leadership of Shannon Holsey and Juana Majel-Dixon.

Your help guides us on how to best respond to violent crimes against American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, support Tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, maintain and expand sexual assault services and support Tribes choosing to exercise special Tribal criminal jurisdiction.

  
Because of NCAI and many other Tribal organizations, the reality of the disproportionate rates of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, and the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, have been brought to the forefront.

We must never forget that American Indian and Alaska Native women are disproportionally affected by violent crimes, including rape and murder, at rates that surpass national averages.

Tragically, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women and girls under the age of 44 in Tribal communities.

And instances of domestic violence and sexual assault should not be viewed in isolation but as a direct reflection of the systemic injustices, institutional failures and historical trauma faced by American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

 
Your steadfast voices and advocacy helped push for new Tribal provisions in the most recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA 2022, which recognized the inherent authority of Tribal governments to hold offenders accountable for an expanded list of covered crimes – going beyond domestic violence offenses to include sexual violence, stalking, sex trafficking, child violence, obstruction of justice and assaults of Tribal justice personnel.

It also created pathways for Tribes in Alaska and Maine to exercise special Tribal criminal jurisdiction – or STJC.

We at OVW are committed to helping Tribes implement STCJ to protect their communities, and we are unwavering in our support for the sovereign right of federally recognized Tribes to prosecute non-Indians using STJC.

Many of you may know our current grant program to support Tribes in planning for and implementing STCJ.

I’m pleased to share that this past April, OVW published regulations implementing a newly authorized program to reimburse Tribal governments for expenses incurred in exercising this jurisdiction.

Also, last month, the Department of Justice launched the Alaska Pilot Program, which enables designated Alaska Tribes to exercise STCJ over non-Indian defendants accused of committing covered crimes in their villages.

In developing the implementation plan for the program, the Department of Justice sought feedback and insight from Tribal leaders and representatives and held a special session during the Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to discuss proposed plans for implementing the program.

In response to Tribal feedback, the pilot offers three different tracks, including two options for Tribes not immediately ready to seek designation to exercise STCJ.

The first track enables Tribes to join an Alaska-specific Intertribal Technical Assistance Working Group (ITWG) modeled on the existing group for Tribes in the lower 48 interested in sharing ideas and accessing training and technical assistance on STCJ.

The second track offers more in-depth support to Tribes interested in readying their criminal justice systems to exercise STCJ.

To support these efforts, OVW is funding the Alaska Native Justice Center, in partnership with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, the Tanana Chiefs Conference, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Alaska Native Women Resource Center to provide necessary training and technical assistance to Alaska Tribes interested in exercising STCJ and to support the establishment of the Alaska ITWG.

This project will offer peer-to-peer learning opportunities, training, and technical assistance for partners within the Tribal justice system and community, all of which are necessary for effective STCJ implementation.

In addition to these efforts tied to jurisdiction, we are implementing a Restorative Practices Grant program.

This grant program will support practices that have roots in Tribal traditions for ensuring accountability and healing.

We look forward to selecting a technical assistance provider and pilot sites soon.

Restorative justice is also a concept raised in the context of campus responses to sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.

OVW administers a grant program specifically for college campuses.

These grants are specifically open to Tribal colleges and universities, and we would love to see more applications from Tribal institutions that want to take advantage of this funding.

We want to ensure that OVW’s funds are accessible to Tribes and that our grants and the process for obtaining them work for you.

 To that end, OVW has been increasing our outreach, supporting Tribes on how to apply for funds and making the application process more manageable.

Outreach efforts include capacity-building grants with a planning phase for Tribes that have never had OVW funding; an opportunity for 24 months of non-competitive funding; a video series on how to leverage OVW Tribal funding opportunities; and pre-application webinars to review solicitations and answer questions.

This past month at the Tribal Governments Summit, we spent a day before the start of the Summit working with Tribes that are not grantees and providing additional support and capacity building on how to apply for OVW grants.

We look forward to hosting another session in Anchorage next month to support Alaska Native Villages to access OVW funding.

Funding can’t compensate for devastating losses or justice denied.

But it is a vital step towards ensuring the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, preventing violence and supporting families of the murdered and missing.

We want to ensure you that there are multiple pathways to safety, justice and healing so that individuals and communities can thrive free from violence.

At OVW, open communication and honest dialogue is essential to fulfilling our shared goals.

We appreciate the diversity of thought and perspectives among sovereign Tribal nations and the opportunity to work with you to keep Tribal communities safe.

I look forward to continuing to strengthen our collaboration with you in our continued partnership.

Thank you.

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