R. Trent Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation who serves as the U.S. Attorney for Northern Oklahoma, testifies at at Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing in Washington, D.C., on October 25, 2017. Photo: SCIA

Choctaw citizen leads Native committee at Department of Justice

R. Trent Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation who serves as the U.S. Attorney for Northern Oklahoma, has taken on a new leadership role within the Trump administration.

Shores is now serving as the chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee at the Department of Justice. He will advise Attorney General Jeff Sessions on public safety and legal issues affecting tribal communities.

“The Native American Issues Subcommittee plays a vital role in developing national policy for Indian Country justice," said Shores, who is the one of the few tribal citizens who has risen to the level of U.S. Attorney. He's also one of the few Native Americans serving in the administration of President Donald Trump.

The Native American Issues Subcommittee consists of U.S. Attorneys whose districts include Indian Country. About two dozen have historically participated in the panel's efforts, which include criminal and civil matters, as well as a making policy recommendations on public safety and legal issues.

Joining Shores in a leadership role is Kurt Alme, the U.S. Attorney for Montana. He will serve as vice chair of the subcommittee.

“The Department of Justice is fortunate to have U.S Attorney Shores as Chair of the NAIS," said Alme. "Not only is he an experienced prosecutor, but as a Native American, he has a unique perspective on law enforcement issues impacting tribal communities. We look forward to working together with tribal leaders to combat the opioid and methamphetamine epidemic and reduce violent crime in Indian Country.”

In November, Shores was tapped by Sessions to serve on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys. The Native subcommittee is a subgroup of that committee.

Shores was confirmed as U.S. Attorney by the Senate last September. Since then, he's been the administration's most prominent spokesperson on Indian issues.

Shores testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last October on the need to improve funding and services in tribal communities, particularly for victims. Federal data shows that American Indians and Alaska Natives are victimized at rates far higher than the general population.

"We must improve our services and our programs for Native juveniles involved in the justice system," Shores said at the hearing. "We need better law enforcement tools and techniques to respond to cases of missing and murdered Native peoples, especially Native women."

Shores continued his efforts with testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. He focused on proposed changes affecting the use of tribal court convictions in determining sentences in federal court.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of the practice in U.S. v. Bryant, a decision from 2016 that arose out of a domestic violence case. The Department of Justice supports the commission's proposed changes, Shores said, but raised concerns about one factor that he said could limit the use of tribal court convictions.

On a second issue, Shores said the department supports the inclusion of tribal courts n the definition of "court protection orders." The factor could also be used in determining sentences in federal court.

The changes affecting tribal court convictions and tribal protection orders arose out of a 2016 report from the Tribal Issues Advisory Group at the Sentencing Commission. A handful of tribes submitted comments about the two amendments.

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