Remarks of Beth McGarry, Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Navajo Nation Correctional Facility Groundbreaking Ceremony
Friday, September 24, 2010
Tuba City, AZ
Thank you, Gena.
Thank you also, Councilwoman MacDonald-Lone Tree. It has been a pleasure working with you on criminal justice issues.
It is an honor to be here today with White House Associate Director Jodi Gillette and the many distinguished tribal leaders: President Shirley, Chief Justice Yazzie, Chapter President Goldtooth, Council Delegate and Public Safety Committee Chair Joe, Council Delegate Jim, and all the other distinguished tribal leaders and guests.
It is my distinct pleasure to be here on behalf of Attorney General Holder and Office of Justice Program's Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, both of whom have an unyielding commitment to improving public safety in tribal communities.
As Hope mentioned, this trip is a homecoming for me. Back in 1974, in a former life as a nursing student, I had a scholarship with the Indian Health Service to work at the hospital and public health clinic in Tuba City.
Lillie Bradley, the Director of Nursing, was very generous with her time and taught me much about the Navajo customs. I was also able to travel in the Navajo community to provide health information. It was a fantastic experience and one I have always treasured. Tomorrow we are going to be visiting in the area, which I am sure will bring back memories.
My parents visited me here that summer. They drove with my sister and aunt from New Jersey and also fell in love with the community. My mother, who is 91, and I had a delightful conversation this past week reminiscing about the people we met and the beautiful land we explored.
But the most gratifying part of being here today is seeing the fruits of the partnership between the Department of Justice and the Navajo Nation. Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said last week, while speaking at the National Native American Museum, that while words are important, ultimately we will be judged by our actions.
That's what today is about, putting our words into action.
Last year the Recovery Act gave us the opportunity to provide badly needed funds to Tribal communities. Most of these funds, $224 million, were directed towards building and renovating prisons or jails. This was both a great opportunity and an enormous challenge.
We had to move quickly to notify tribes of the available funds and to make sure they had the information needed to apply. In doing this, we worked closely with Tribal organizations, such as the National Congress of American Indians, and with many of the tribes themselves, including the Navajo Nation.
As you would expect, tribal leaders had many questions about applying for the Recovery Act funds, and we answered them online, by phone, and in person. We traveled to Tribal conferences across America to make sure that tribes had the information they needed to apply.
In the end, the process worked. We awarded 21 grants, all by the end of Fiscal Year 2009.
From the date President Obama signed the Recovery to the awards, a mere eight months had elapsed. These awards would not have been possible without our partnership with tribes such as the Navajo Nation.
Councilwoman McDonald LoneTree, through her service on our Tribal Justice Advisory Group, played a pivotal role in ensuring that we could effectively reach out to tribes. I remember talking with you, Hope, about the Recovery Act funding and your fervent desire to obtain funding for this facility. Through your hard work and those of the other Navajo Nation leaders this dream has become a reality.
Today, we are seeing the direct result of one of three Recovery Act corrections grants to the Navajo Nation. We often hear people ask, "Where has the stimulus money gone?" Today, we can point to this project and say, "right here to the Navajo Nation."
The Recovery Act was an unprecedented response to our Nation's economic downturn. It was, many would say, groundbreaking. When individuals needed jobs, families needed help, and communities needed a boost, the Obama Administration stepped in. As we break ground on this facility, we do so with the knowledge that it was the groundbreaking Recovery Act that made it possible.
The Recovery Act was groundbreaking not just because of its scope, but also because of its approach. It is helping to put citizens to work on local projects that will improve their communities - projects like this facility.
At the Department of Justice, we are well aware of the need for modern, well-equipped corrections facilities on Tribal lands. The Recovery Act grants are a critical step in meeting that need. This new corrections facility will have 132 beds and be managed by a staff of 20. It will be a 144,000 square foot complex, which will include a corrections facility, law enforcement administrative offices, and expanded court facilities for the Navajo Nation Department of Corrections.
I am especially pleased that new program space will provide a wide range of culturally appropriate services to the inmate population, as well as after-care services designed to prevent relapses and re-incarceration.
A groundbreaking has a very clear meaning - that we have made progress but that much of the hard work remains to be done. That's true here with the construction of this facility, and it's also true with the Department of Justice's commitment to the Navajo Nation and all of our tribal partners.
This commitment means not just hearing what tribal leaders have to say, but responding to their concerns. Last year, Attorney General Holder and other Department officials met with Tribal leaders in a series of listening sessions and consultations. In response, the Department made significant changes to the grant award process this fiscal year.
We are grateful that Navajo Nation officials will be participating in our consultation on October 5 to discuss the Fiscal Year 2010 grant process. It's through feedback and dialogue that we can make our process work better. I will be attending the consultation, and I look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.
In addition to these efforts, we are proud of our support for the Tribal Law and Order Act, which President Obama signed into law in July. This landmark Act increases accountability for federal agencies responsible for public safety in Indian Country and gives greater local control to Tribal law enforcement agencies. Putting more power in the hands of the public safety officers on the frontlines will ultimately make Tribal communities safer.
We look forward to our continued work with tribes as full partners in an effort to improve public safety. Thank you for your being here today and for your commitment to your community.
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