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U.S. attorney general to speak Thursday in Bismarck

BISMARCK — The nation’s top law enforcement officer will visit Bismarck on Thursday to speak at a conference that brings together tribal and law enforcement leaders to discuss ways to make American Indian communities safer.

Attorney General Eric Holder will deliver remarks at the Tribal Consultation Conference at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Tim Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said Holder’s visit is believed to be the first time a sitting U.S. attorney general has visited Bismarck since Robert F. Kennedy addressed the National Congress of American Indians in 1963.

“It is fitting, given this attorney general’s and this Department of Justice’s commitment to improving public safety on the reservations, that the AG is traveling to Bismarck, just as RFK did nearly 51 years ago, to talk about the important issues facing Indian country,” Purdon said by email.

Holder is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. at the college. His address is open only to conference attendees and the press.

United Tribes Technical College Chancellor David Gipp introduced Holder as a speaker on Nov. 13 at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. Gipp credited Holder and his staff with taking up “the challenge of creating equity and sorely needed public safety for American Indians.”

Holder has made public safety in Indian country a priority since taking office in 2009, starting with a Tribal Nations Listening Tour that October, during which Justice Department officials heard from tribal leaders about the need for federal legislation and funding to help them address public safety problems, according to the Justice Department website.

In July 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, which aims to address crime in tribal communities and curb violence against American Indian women through a variety of programs. Obama also signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in March 2013, giving tribes the power to prosecute non-Indians who commit acts of domestic violence in Indian country.

News of Holder’s visit comes less than two weeks after The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, reported that Obama is planning to visit an American Indian reservation in North Dakota this month. During the Tribal Nations Conference in November, Obama pledged, “Next year, I’ll make my first trip to Indian country as president.” His senior policy adviser for Native American affairs is Jodi Gillette, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The White House has yet to confirm the president’s visit, which would be Obama’s first appearance in North Dakota since a campaign stop in Fargo in July 2008 and a rare visit to a reservation by a sitting president. President Bill Clinton’s visit in 1999 to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota marked the first time a sitting president had visited a reservation since Franklin D. Roosevelt visited a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina in 1936.

This is the fourth year Purdon has organized the Tribal Consultation Conference, which brings together tribal, local, state and federal law enforcement, court and government personnel.

Reach Mike Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.