Task force to address violence on reservations, Alaska villages

Timothy WilliamsThe New York Times

A special Justice Department task force will hold a series of public meetings around the country to study the scope and effect that exposure to violence has on Native American and Alaska Native children, the Justice Department said.

The announcement, made by Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. this week, comes amid a surge of violence on many Indian reservations and complaints that federal law enforcement officials, who are responsible for investigating and prosecuting most major crimes in Lower 48 Indian Country, have done too little to address the problem.

A December report by the Justice Department concluded that American Indian and Alaska Native children "have an exceptional degree of unmet needs for services and support to prevent and respond to the extreme levels of violence they experience."

On Wednesday, during the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, in which leaders of the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes (229 of which are in Alaska) met with members of the Obama administration, Holder told tribal members that the federal government would not "tolerate a world in which nearly half of all Indian women and girls" have been raped, beaten or stalked by an intimate partner.

The 12-member task force will be led by Byron Dorgan, a Democrat and former U.S. senator from North Dakota who served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Joanne Shenandoah, a singer and member of the Oneida Nation. Other members include Valerie Davidson, a senior director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage, and Eddie Brown of the Pascua Yaqui Indian Tribe, who is executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute and a professor at Arizona State University.

The task force's first hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Bismarck, N.D., and will be followed next year by meetings in Phoenix; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Anchorage. Once the hearings conclude, the task force will make policy recommendations to the Justice Department, officials said.

The announcement of the Justice Department task force came the same week that a congressionally ordered report from the bipartisan Indian Law & Order Commission delivered stinging criticism of justice and law enforcement practices in Alaska's Native villages by state government. That report, which focused on domestic violence, suicide and other chronic problems, will be officially presented by members of the commission at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Providers Conference in Anchorage on Dec. 4.

Anchorage Daily News staff contributed to this report.

The New York Times