On December 9, 2013, a new task force advisory committee appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder held the first of four public hearings to examine the impact of violence on children in Indian country. The hearing was held in Bismarck, ND.
“We must not accept the shameful reality that American Indians and Alaska Natives are disproportionately likely to be exposed to crime and violenceand that many who suffer exposure are children,” said Attorney General Holder in his announcement of the launch of the public hearings. “By bringing together federal officials, tribal leaders, and local partners to focus on the unique challenges that Indian children face, this task force will enhance public safety. And these leaders will strengthen our communities by ensuring that every child can have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to thrivefree from violence and fear.”
The Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is composed of a federal working group that includes U.S. Attorneys and officials from the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Justice and an advisory committee of experts on American Indian/Alaska Native studies, child health and trauma, and child welfare. The advisory committee is chaired by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and musical artist Joanne Shenandoah. An interview about the work of the task force, featuring OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee and Ms. Shenandoah, is available online.
During the hearing, experts on the trauma of sexual abuse of tribal children discussed their experiences and recommended ways to improve identification, assessment, and treatment. Other topics addressed included violence in the home, healing from trauma, and programs for children exposed to violence in Indian country and urban communities.
Associate Attorney General Tony West spoke at the hearing; Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the hearing via videotaped remarks.
“Today represents an important step in protecting American Indian and Alaska Native children,” said Associate Attorney General West. “This task force has already begun addressing children’s exposure to violence in tribal communities in ways that recognize the unique government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribes, and it will continue to develop approaches that will help us protect our children.”
The Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is a key component of Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative to prevent and reduce children’s trauma from experiencing violence as victims or witnesses. The task force was created in response to a recommendation in the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence December 2012 final report, which found that tribal children have exceptional unmet needs for services and support to prevent and respond to violence.
The advisory committee will hold additional public hearings in Phoenix, AZ; Fort Lauderdale, FL; and Anchorage, AK, in early 2014; and several listening sessions throughout the year. After the hearings are completed, the committee will analyze the findings and provide policy and program recommendations to Attorney General Holder in the fall of 2014.
Associate Attorney General Tony West's speech at the public hearing, a press release about the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason’s blog about the Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence, and more information about the Attorney General's Defending Childhood Initiative are available on the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.