The U.S. Department of Justice, in an effort to support survivors of violence, is awarding $68.2 million in grant funding to indigenous communities, saying the funding will help strengthen its relationship with the tribes.
The funds, announced Tuesday through the DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women, will be awarded through 88 grants to provide services and promote justice for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking.
"For too long, Alaska Native and American Indian communities have endured persistent and disproportionate levels of violence," Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
The grants, part of the 2022 Violence Against Women Act, will enhance tribal justice systems, support an array of services for victims, and provide training and technical assistance to service providers and tribal governments, according to the DOJ.
The DOJ's press release announcing the funding said that a National Institute of Justice study found that more than 80% of American Indians and Alaska Natives have experienced violence in their lifetimes. Within that group, more than 56% of indigenous women and 27% of men experienced sexual violence, and more than 55% of women and 43% of men were victims of physical violence by an intimate partner, the study found.
"American Indian and Alaska Native individuals experience unacceptably high rates of violence, which is in many ways a direct reflection of systematic injustice and institutional failures these populations face," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. "Through the authority and funding in VAWA 2022, the Justice Department is strengthening our partnerships with more tribes, supporting communities in holding individuals accountable and focusing on solutions that center survivors."
Forty-eight of the grants — totaling nearly $40 million — will go toward developing tribal strategies to respond to violence, stalking and sex trafficking against women and support survivor safety through education and prevention strategies, the DOJ said.
According to Native Hope, a tribal justice nonprofit, indigenous women and children in the U.S. and Canada are being abducted and killed at alarming rates. Many Native Americans, the group said, don't live on reservations and are often transient between tribal and state lands.
There were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in 2016, the latest information available through the National Crime Information Center. The DOJ's federal missing person database, NamUs, logged 116 cases that same year, according to the Urban Health Institute.
"American Indian and Alaska Native communities know best the unique challenges they face and how best to allocate resources, strengthen prevention efforts and provide pathways for safety, healing and justice for survivors," Office of Violence Against Women Director Rosie Hidalgo said in a statement. She said the grants were "a direct result of tribes, advocates and survivors who have bravely shared their stories, challenges, recommendations and leadership."
Under the Grants to Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition Program, 20 of the grants will go toward the development of nonprofit, nongovernmental tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, the DOJ said.
The issue of violence against indigenous individuals has been a hot topic of discussion between tribal government leaders, nonprofits and lawmakers in recent years as advocates continue to protest what they say is a lack of appropriate accounting of the number of missing and murdered women and children.
Tribal governments themselves are beginning to pass legislation bolstering victims' rights services, with Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren on Sept. 4 signing a law to strengthen protections and resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Council leaders said the legislation was a long time in the making, with a plethora of victim advocate nonprofits and tribal and state law enforcement agencies working to support it.
The DOJ said that seven of the grants, totaling $6.45 million, will support projects that create, maintain and expand services for sexual assault survivors provided by tribes, tribal organizations and nonprofits within tribal lands.
Four of the grants are reserved for tribal governments and will provide $6 million for support and technical assistance to plan and implement changes in their criminal justice systems to exercise special jurisdiction.
The funding announcement comes after the DOJ said last month that it had awarded $69.6 million through its Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside program to support crime victims in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Those 212 awards were consistent with the requirements of the federal Victims of Crime Act, which gives states money for victim assistance and compensation programs, and will fund services such as counseling, civil legal assistance, emergency housing and tribal wellness ceremonies, the DOJ said at the time.
Almost $22 million of the awards went to 67 tribal communities in Alaska, according to the department.