National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel addresses the organization's winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 13, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Tribes eligible for victim services funding for the first time

Tribes are being invited, for the first time, to seek grants from the national Crime Victims Fund.

Some $110 million will be made available this year, thanks to bipartisan action in Congress. The $1.3 trillion #Omnibus that became law in March set aside 3 percent of the national fund for Indian Country.

While that amount is small in comparison to the overall pot of funds, it represents progress after years of work by tribes and their advocates. Existing figures show that less than 1 percent of grants have made to American Indians and Alaska Natives, despite high rates of victimization in their communities.

"As members of Congress, we have an obligation to meet the safety and justice needs of Indian Country,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus, said in March after the tribal set-aside was included in the #Omnibus spending package.

Tribal leaders have credited Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, with helping secure funds for victims of crime in Indian Country. She is seen here at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 14, 2018. Photo: NCAI

Tribes will be able to use the set-aside to help victims of human trafficking, the opioid and drug crisis, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, homicide and related crimes, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday. A webinar is taking place on Thursday to provide information about the new funding opportunity, with initial applications due on August 6.

"This solicitation has a streamlined, two-phase application process for this unique program, the Office for Victims of Crime said in the announcement.

The set-aside is seen as critical in order for money to make it directly to tribal communities. According to Secretary Juana Majel-Dixon of the National Congress of American Indians, states have been including American Indian and Alaska Native populations in their applications but haven't actually used the funds in Indian Country.

"Did anyone of you know that?" Majel-Dixon said during the organization's winter conference earlier this year. "Did anyone of you know that's what they are doing with your money?"

And NCAI has been working to ensure the money doesn't go away. A new funding bill making its way through Congress in fact includes a 5 percent set-aside for Indian Country.

The language has been included in both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill. H.R.5952 and S.3072 have been approved in their respective committees and await further action in each chamber.

Again, tribes relied on friends from both sides of the aisle for the 2019 set-aside. The House language was added by Rep. McCollum and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who serves as the other co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“We greatly appreciate Congresswoman McCollum and Congressman Cole’s leadership and advocacy to ensure that crime victims on tribal lands have access to the healing and justice they need,” President Jefferson Keel of NCAI said in May, when the language surfaced in the House version of the CJS bill.

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