Justice official visits students at N.D. reservationThe No. 2 official in the U.S. Department of Justice told students on a North Dakota American Indian reservation Wednesday that his trip coincided with an important day for tribal safety, noting Congress was discussing a law that could help prosecute domestic violence cases.
By: By Dave Kolpack , Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
FORT YATES, N.D. — The No. 2 official in the U.S. Department of Justice told students on a North Dakota American Indian reservation Wednesday that his trip coincided with an important day for tribal safety, noting Congress was discussing a law that could help prosecute domestic violence cases.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole visited Standing Rock High School as federal lawmakers discussed whether to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the federal government’s main domestic violence program. A new part of the law, Cole said, would expand the number of cases that could be prosecuted in tribal courts, rather than waiting for them to go through the federal system.
“It is being argued today. It is being debated today,” Cole told students. “This is something we are very much in favor of and we are pushing forward.”
The legislation, though, may have a different look than what Cole has envisioned. Two Republican senators were working on an alternative that would eliminate several Democratic provisions, including one giving tribal officials more authority in cases of abuse of American Indian women by non-tribal members.
Cole was not available for comment after the program.
The 2.2 million-acre Standing Rock reservation straddles the North and South Dakota border. The Standing Rock school, located in Fort Yates, has about 250 students in grades seven through 12.
Jeremy Silva, a Standing Rock senior, asked Cole during a question-and-answer session about statistics showing that crimes rates are 2.5 times higher on reservations than elsewhere, and that only 50 percent of the cases are actually prosecuted.
Cole said the number of prosecutions isn’t always a good measure on how much the Justice Department is fighting crime. He said many cases aren’t publicized because of privacy concerns.
“But we are working every day to improve our collection of evidence and make sure that crimes that happen here can be prosecuted here,” Cole said. “That’s another reason why we are pushing very hard for the Violence Against Women Act.”
Silva, who is heading to Dartmouth College to study government, said he learned some things from Cole that should help him down the road.
“Having him here was just a great experience,” Silva said. “I got a chance to understand how he works and it gives me an idea of what I want to pursue.”
Silva said his future could include law school, but he plans to return to the reservation to put a dent into the crime statistics he reeled off to Cole.
“I don’t know how long it will take, but we need to become safe and secure,” he said.