Policy in Action: Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence Report

The Department of Justice’s Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence recently released a report with findings and recommendations. The report calls for additional funding for tribal courts and improved cooperation among federal and agencies. CNAY’s chairman and founder, Senator Byron Dorgan (ret.) is the co-chair of the 13-member advisory committee, which is a part of the task force.

The 258-page report demands that Congress and the White House give back authority and jurisdiction to tribes and tribal courts, provide training for law enforcement, social workers and judges and require agencies to collaborate, among other recommendations. It also calls for a new staff position in the White House to address the effects of violence on Native American children.

According to the 2009 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, more than 60 percent of all Native children are exposed to violence. More than 40 percent of children experience two or more acts of violence, and often those children experience post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate that rivals that of soldiers returning from Afghanistan. In fact, 22 percent of Native children experience post-traumatic stress disorder, which is three times the national average for children.

The task force members said that witnesses during listening sessions throughout the country described how a lack of funding has led to negative effects on housing, law enforcement, child welfare, juvenile justice, health care and education on reservations, ultimately hampering community efforts to address violence against children.

Some key recommendations from the report are below. For the full report click here. If you have questions about task force or the report, please contact ryan.ward@aspeninst.org.

Key Recommendations:

  • Congress and the executive branch shall direct sufficient funds
    to AI/AN tribes to bring funding for tribal criminal and civil
    justice systems and tribal child protection systems into parity
    with the rest of the United States and shall remove the barriers
    that currently impede the ability of AI/AN Nations to effectively
    address violence in their communities.
  • Leaders at the highest levels of the executive and legislative
    branches of the federal government should coordinate and
    implement the recommendations in this report consistent with
    three core principles—Empowering Tribes, Removing Barriers,
    and Providing Resources—identified by the Advisory Committee.
  • The White House should establish—no later than May 2015—a
    permanent fully-staffed Native American Affairs Office within
    the White House Domestic Policy Council.
  • Congress should restore the inherent authority of American
    Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes to assert full criminal
    jurisdiction over all persons who commit crimes against AI/AN
    children in Indian country.
  • The legislative branch of the federal government along with the
    executive branch, under the direction and oversight of the White
    House Native American Affairs Office, should provide adequate
    funding for and assistance with Indian country research and
    data collection.
  • The federal government should provide training for AI/AN
    Nations and for the federal agencies serving AI/AN communities
    on the needs of AI/AN children exposed to violence. Federal
    employees assigned to work on issues pertaining to AI/AN
    communities should be required to obtain training on tribal
    sovereignty, working with tribal governments, and the impact of
    historical trauma and colonization on tribal Nations within the
    first sixty days of their job assignment.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) should issue regulations (not simply update guidelines) and create an oversight board to review ICWA implementation and designate consequences of noncompliance and/or incentives for compliance with ICWA to ensure the effective implementation of ICWA.
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) should create a position
    of Indian Child Welfare Specialist to provide advice to the
    Attorney General and DOJ staff on matters relative to AI/
    AN child welfare cases, to provide case support in case before federal, tribal, and state courts, and to coordinate ICWA training for federal, tribal, and state judges; prosecutors; and other court personnel.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the Department of the
    Interior (DOI), tribal social service agencies, and state social
    service agencies should have policies that permit removal of
    children from victims of domestic violence for “failure to protect” only as a last resort as long as the child is safe.
  • The White House Native American Affairs Office should
    coordinate the development and implementation of
    federal policy that mandates exposure to violence trauma
    screening and suicide screening be a part of services
    offered to AI/AN children during medical, juvenile justice,
    and/or social service intakes.
  • The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should designate and prioritize Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHSDA) funding for construction of facilities to serve AI/AN children exposed to violence and structures for positive youth activities. This will help tribal communities create positive environments such as shelters, housing, cultural facilities, recreational facilities, sport centers, and theaters through the Indian Community Development Block Grant Program and the Housing Assistance Programs.
  • Congress should authorize additional and adequate funding for tribal juvenile justice programs, a grossly underfunded area, in the form of block grants and self-governance compacts that would support the restructuring and maintenance of tribal justice systems.
  • The federal government should promptly implement all
    five recommendations in Chapter 2 (Reforming Justice for
    Alaska Natives: The Time Is Now) of the Indian Law and Order
    Commission’s 2013 Final Report, A Roadmap for Making Native
    America Safer, and assess the cost of implementation. This will
    remove the barriers that currently inhibit the ability of Alaska
    Native Tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction and utilize criminal remedies when confronting the highest rates of violent crime in the country.

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