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AG (202) 616-2765 TDD (202) 514-1888

ATTORNEY GENERAL ANNOUNCES CREATION OF OFFICE OF TRIBAL JUSTICE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Attorney General Janet Reno announced today the creation of an Office of Tribal Justice in the Department of Justice to improve services to American Indians and Alaska Natives by coordinating Department policies and positions on issues involving both groups. During the National American Indian Listening Conference last May and in subsequent follow-up meetings, tribal leaders have expressed a need for greater coordination and communication between the Department and Indian Country, said Reno. The Office of Tribal Justice was created to fulfill this need. "The Office Of Tribal Justice will be critical in ushering in a new day in federal-tribal relations by ensuring better communication between the Department and tribes," said Reno. "This office will enable existing departmental programs to operate more effectively and will provide a point of contact for tribes and organizations with interests in Indian issues. This is a substantial step toward our goals of reinventing government and providing better service to Indian Country." The mission of the Office of Tribal Justice will be threefold: ​ to provide a point of contact within the Department to listen to the concerns of Indian tribes and other parties interested in Indian affairs and to communicate the Department's policies to the tribes and the public; ​ to promote internal uniformity of Department of Justice policies and litigation positions relating to Indian country; and ​ to coordinate with other federal agencies and with state and local governments on their initiatives in Indian country. The Office will be established within the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. The Office staff will occupy positions drawn from the Department's components that work on American Indian issues, thus requiring no additional resources. Personnel and operational costs will be borne by these components. The Office will be staffed by a director, two deputy directors, an administrative aide and a part-time special assistant from the Deputy Attorney General's staff. "The establishment of the Office of Tribal Justice in the Department of Justice marks a major advance in the administration of the Federal government's unique legal and moral obligation to Indian tribes," said Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

President gaiashkibos of the National Congress of American Indians said that the office represents "a very positive initial step in enhancing the relationship between the Department and tribal governments. Providing a single point of coordination for the multitude of issues affecting tribes will provide a great benefit to Indian Country." Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said that the establishment of the Office "sends a clear message to Indian Country of the importance the Attorney General places on our constitutionally-mandated relationship with the Indian nations and our trust responsibility for Indian lands and natural resources." The office is expected to be fully operational by the end of January. Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute--a national organization that promotes the traditional culture and rights of Native Americans -- said the Attorney General's "quick action to establish the Office of Tribal Justice bodes well for its future as a problem-solving point of coordination where the Indian voice, all too often ignored in the justice system, will be listened to and heard." Herbert A. Becker will be the Director of the Office. Becker, born and raised on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, has been a lawyer with the federal government for 22 years. "Mr. Becker's wide-ranging experience in all aspects of Indian law will be of tremendous value to the Department," said Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick. "As a prosecutor with the United States Attorney's offices in North Dakota and New Mexico, he has experienced firsthand the complexity of criminal and civil issues affecting Indian Country." Becker also has gained familiarity with a wide range of Indian issues from his work in the Department of Justice's Indian Resources Section in the Environment and Natural Resources Division; in the Solicitor's Office at the Department of the Interior; and as Director of California Indian Legal Services and Wind River Indian Legal Services in Wyoming. He taught Indian law at the University of New Mexico School of Law, the University of North Dakota and California State University at Hayward, California. In these roles, Becker helped shape natural resources law. "It will be my pleasure to work with Mr. Becker to ensure that the Department's policies in Indian Country are carefully considered," said Gorelick. ### 95-056