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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Indian Nations Conference

December 9, 2010
Palm Springs, CA

       Thank you, Sarah [Deer]. I'd also like to thank Robin Charboneau for sharing her incredible story of survival with us. I think we'd all agree that people like Robin are the reason we are here. What she has endured is unforgivable, but what she has accomplished is unforgettable.

       Before I begin, I have to also acknowledge Joye Frost from our Office for Victims of Crime. Joye and her staff of dedicated professionals work all year to deliver programs, products, and events like this one that respond directly to the needs of victim service providers in the field. We all benefit from their enthusiasm for serving victims and the professionals who serve them.

       OVC selected "Walking in Harmony" as the theme for this year's conference because we can only achieve safety, deliver justice, and promote healing if we first honor victim voices. Harmony is not possible through passive acceptance or reluctant acknowledgement. True harmony requires understanding and coordination - and it doesn't happen unless you listen closely.

       I've had the distinct honor of spending a large portion of my career working with victims and victim service providers. Early in my career as a prosecutor, I worked directly with victim advocates who taught me that victims need to be treated with dignity and respect throughout the criminal justice process. More than they want a specific case outcome, victims yearn to be heard, understood, included, and remembered.

       This lesson has been highlighted for me again and again - from my time as the Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime to my current role in the Office of Justice Programs. While we have certainly made enormous strides toward serving more victims and providing better services, there are still cracks - and we must continue to work to shore up those fractures until no victims slip through.

       As you know all too well, Native American communities still face inexcusably high crime rates and victims often don't receive the services they need and deserve. In the next few days, you'll hear from experts from throughout the victim services field about innovative programs, best practices, and evidence-based approaches to serving victims in Indian Country.

       What will no doubt emerge as an overarching theme is the need to incorporate traditional values, skills, and approaches in our work to help Native American victims. You'll also notice that many of the efforts we highlight include nourishing community partnerships, as well as collaborations between tribal, federal, state, and local governments.

       These collaborations are necessary if we are ever going to truly walk in harmony. Harmony requires synchronization. This Administration and this Department of Justice have been working with tribal leaders and communities to achieve that synchronization.

       In just a few moments, I'll have the pleasure of introducing Attorney General Eric Holder, who has made it clear that tribal justice and safety are among his priorities. He convened a listening session with tribal representatives in October 2009 and has ensured that we continue to listen to - and learn from - tribal leaders.

       Attorney General Holder will talk in more detail about some of our efforts as result of those sessions, including the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, or CTAS. CTAS allowed tribes to submit a single application for most Justice Department grants, streamlining the grant process and fostering local and nation-to-nation collaboration. The Office of Justice Programs is actively involved in current efforts to solicit tribal feedback on CTAS and use that information to refine the process.

       This movement to better synchronize our efforts has also been supported at the highest levels of the Administration. President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act in July. This landmark legislation will empower tribal law enforcement agencies and increase accountability for federal agencies working in Indian Country.

       Since the passage of the Act, OJP has established a Steering Committee to guide our implementation efforts. I convened the OJP members of the committee on December 1, and we will be inviting participants from other DOJ components and federal agencies. We're working to stay on schedule and meet our legal obligations under TLOA. Our most pressing goal, though, is to make sure we uphold the spirit with which TLOA was passed.

       As President Obama said during the signing ceremony, "Ultimately, it's not just the federal government's relationship with tribal governments that compels us to act; it's not just our obligations under treaty and under law, but it's also our values as a nation that are at stake." TLOA is an important step toward defending our shared values and the fundamental rights of the First Americans.

       This, of course, includes Native American victims. To return to our theme, we can never really walk in harmony if we do not honor the unique voices of tribal victims. If my time working with victims taught me anything, it is that ALL victims have the power and the innate resources to overcome tragedy and adversity. But they need help. Help to find their own strengths. Help to feel safe, respected, and heard. And help to be accepted as who they are.

       Culture, we know, is an enormous part of who we all are. For victims who come from cultures that are both ancient and timeless, we must create a safe environment that respects and honors those cultures.

       That is why OVC promotes culturally sensitive approaches to victim services. We fully realize that any efforts to help Native American victims must acknowledge traditional concepts of justice and methods of healing, rather than simply imposing Western ideals.

       As part of this effort, OVC has partnered with the Indian Health Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to support coordinated community responses to victims of crime in tribal communities. This includes support for sexual assault nurse examiners, known as SANEs, and Sexual Assault Response Teams, or SARTs. These experts provide victim-centered responses to cases involving sexual assaults and help victims through the sometimes painful process of providing evidence.

       Additionally, OVC is supporting the sixth National SART Training Conference on May 25-27, in Austin, Texas. For the first time, the conference will include a complete track on issues specific to sexual assault in Indian Country. This specialized, multidisciplinary track is designed to help tribal communities establish sustainable SANE and SART programs.

       Finally, to help more tribal law enforcement personnel, SANEs, advocates, prosecutors, and crime lab specialists attend the conference, OVC will be awarding 25 Tribal SART team scholarships. Applications are due January 15 and are available online at sartconference.com. I'd also encourage you to visit the OVC booth during the conference for more information.

       By listening to victims' voices, honoring victims' cultures, and working together, we can, indeed, walk in harmony. In fact, I believe much of the dissonance we have experienced in the past was the result of cultural disconnects. That is why this Department of Justice is committed to hearing you, acknowledging you, and respecting you in everything we do.

       No one better exemplifies that commitment than our keynote speaker, Attorney General Eric Holder. I had the pleasure of working for Eric Holder in the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office years ago, and I'm proud to once again call him my boss.

       Our Attorney General is a tried-and-true victims' rights advocate. He is leading a Justice Department that is putting victims first - ensuring that no matter who they are - or where they live - they always have a voice.

       He is also deeply committed to improving public safety in tribal communities and meeting tribal needs in ways that enhance sovereignty.

       Please join me in welcoming Attorney General Eric Holder.

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