|The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News
Staff Writer, All content © Native
Associate Attorney General Tony West with Attorney General Eric Holder. West addressed the recent first hearing on the Task Force on Native Children exposed to violence held in Bismarck.
Discussing a ‘sensitive topic;’ violence against children
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer
BISMARCK, N.D. – A gathering of tribal researchers, advocates and local community members was held in Bismarck with the purpose of discussing a sensitive topic in Indian Country; domestic violence and child physical and sexual abuse.
The Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of the Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence held the public hearing as the committee’s first step in protecting Native children.
The task force is comprised of a federal working group that includes U.S. Attorneys and officials from the Departments of the Interior and Justice and an advisory committee of experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma and child welfare.
“Today represents an important step in protecting American Indian and Alaska Native children,” said Associate Attorney General Tony 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 problem of American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence is complex and widespread and can have devastating consequences for these children,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Karol V. Mason. “I’m pleased that this group of experts will help us understand the challenges before us and give us the information we need to reduce the incidence of violence and trauma among native children.”
During the hearing, experts on the trauma of sexual abuse of American Indian children discussed their experiences and recommended ways to improve the identification, assessment and treatment of children. Other topics addressed included violence in the home, healing from trauma and programs for children exposed to violence in Indian Country and urban communities.
Attorney General Holder created the task force this year as part of his Defending Childhood initiative to prevent and reduce children’s exposure to violence as victims and witnesses. The task force is also a component of the Justice Department’s ongoing collaboration with leaders in American Indian and Alaska Native communities to improve public safety.
Fifty years ago Attorney General Robert Kennedy came here to Bismarck and spoke of the "tragic irony" of First Americans living in the freest country in the world yet imprisoned by conditions of poverty and deprivation, conditions not found in the natural order of things but manmade, imposed and perpetuated by bigotry and greed and violence.
And Attorney General Kennedy spoke of the responsibility to reverse that historical tide, so that “the light of freedom, just dawning in his own lifetime might fully shine on his children.”
“Because the simple, sad fact is that too many American Indian and Alaska Native children still suffer or witness violence in Indian Country. Too many see family members or friends fall victim to violence; and too many are victims themselves,” said Associate Attorney Tony West, in prepared comments for the hearing.
Officials from the Departments of Justice, the Interior, and Health and Human Services with proven dedication and experience in Indian Country have come together as part of this Federal Working Group to address these concerns.
“Over the next year, the Advisory Committee will travel the country, holding hearings and listening sessions. They will comb through the research and consult with others to help us paint a clearer picture of the incidence of violence among native children, and help identify ways to prevent it,” said West.
“So this is our charge and our challenge. Today represents an early and important step in protecting American Indian and Alaska Native children. No one here expects this work to be easy, or that the efforts we embark on here will lead to a panacea. But it is an investment an investment in our children; in the future of sovereign tribal nations on this continent; an investment we fail to make at our own peril, and one whose return will be measured not in dollars and cents, but in the young smiles you create; the doors of hope you will open; the futures you will shape; and the lives you will change.”
Tony West was appointed the Acting Associate Attorney General of the United States on March 9, 2012, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 25, 2013.
As the Associate Attorney General, Mr. West's primary responsibility is to advise and assist the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General in formulating and implementing Departmental policies and programs related to a broad range of issues, including civil litigation, federal and local law enforcement, and public safety.
Mr. West, the third-ranking official at the agency, oversees the Department's civil litigating components, grant-making components, the Office of Tribal Justice, the Executive Office for U.S. Trustees, the Office of Information Policy, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and the Access to Justice Initiative.
In addition to the hearing in Bismarck, the advisory committee will convene three public hearings in early 2014 in Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Anchorage, Alaska, focusing on violence in homes, schools and communities in Indian Country.
The 13-member advisory committee is co-chaired by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah. The advisory committee will draw upon research and information gathered through public hearings to draft a final report of policy recommendations that it will present to Attorney General Eric Holder by late 2014.
For more information about the advisory committee and public hearings, please visit www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood.
(Contact Karin Eagle at email@example.com)
Copyright permission by Native Sun News