Tester announces Montana tribal prosecutor’s organization

Organization’s first meeting includes tribal prosecutors from every Montana reservation

(ROCKY BOY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester today announced the formation of a statewide organization devoted to addressing crime and injustice in Indian Country.

Tester addressed tribal prosecutors from all seven reservations in Montana and U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter’s Indian Crime Unit during their first-ever meeting today in Rocky Boy, Mont.

“The most important thing we must do to address crime and injustice in Indian Country is to address the economic challenges of Indian Country,” Tester told the organization, noting the need to create good-paying jobs and new economic opportunities on Indian reservations.  “Only by doing that will we get the upper-hand on crime.  By doing that we will make tribes truly self-sufficient.”

Tester said until then, it is “our responsibility to make Indian communities safe.”

Tester highlighted the success of his Tribal Law and Order Act, which became law last year.  He also highlighted his successful amendment which redirected additional resources to Indian tribes.

“It is critical that citizens are safe in every Montana community,” Tester said.  “That every community is a place where every Montanan can take advantage of every opportunity our nation has to offer without violence, without injustice and without fear.”

Cotter said he is pleased with the organization of the tribal prosecutors’ group.

“The United States Attorney’s Office is delighted to see the tribal prosecutors coming together,” Cotter said.  “When my office is in close contact with its counterparts in Indian Country, we can better serve those affected by violence and crime in and around Indian Country.”

Tester’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, appear below.


U.S. Senator Jon Tester
Montana Tribal Prosecutors Organization
March 24, 2011

Thanks for inviting me to share a few words.

And congratulations on this important first meeting of tribal prosecutors from all seven Montana reservations… working together for the first time with their federal partners in law and order.

Thanks for being here today.

I appreciate the work you all do.  And thank you, Mike, for your efforts in getting your arms around this challenge.

It is critical that citizens are safe in every Montana community.

That every community is a place where every Montanan can take advantage of every opportunity our nation has to offer… without violence.  Without injustice.  And without fear.

The federal government plays a special role in Indian Country.

The United States has a trust responsibility to make sure that Indian communities are a safe place to start a business.  To raise a family.  Or to go to school.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Criminals are targeting reservations as safe-havens.

They’ve turned many tribal communities into areas of lawlessness.

International criminals even use reservations near our borders to traffic illegal items.

We all know gang violence is on the rise.

Domestic violence too often goes unpunished.

The Justice Department reports that one in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes.  One in three. 

That is a shame.  And it’s unacceptable.

The most important thing we must do to address crime and injustice in Indian Country… is to address the economic challenges of Indian Country.

To create good-paying jobs.  To bring down the unemployment rate.  To create new opportunities.

To make sure hope is always part of the equation in Indian communities.

Only by doing that will we get the upper-hand on crime.  By doing that we will make tribes truly self-sufficient.

Until then, it is our responsibility to make Indian communities safe.  It is a responsibility we have to our kids.  And to our elders.

As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee – and more importantly as a concerned Montanan – I want to do whatever I can to help turn things around.

At Committee hearings over the past few years, we heard a lot of excuses:

  • Confusion about jurisdiction,
  • Lack of accountability at every level,
  • Poor communication and coordination at every level,
  • Severe lack of resources

But we’ve made a lot of progress too – thanks to input from Montana’s tribal leaders.

One of my first orders of business was to amend the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.  PEPFAR was meant to fight the spread of HIV and AIDS worldwide.

A bi-partisan group of senators cosponsored my amendment to direct a substantial portion of that money to improve Indian Country first, before we focus on foreign countries.

In addition to investing $750 million into reservation public safety, it also re-directed a portion of that funding to invest in Indian health care and water improvement projects.

And just last year, Congress passed the Tribal Law and Order Act.

It’s a bill I introduced with Senator Byron Dorgan – who served as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee.

We crafted the bill after consulting with tribal leaders for years.

While it is not a silver bullet, the Tribal Law and Order Act is the most significant law addressing public safety in Indian Country in decades.

If implemented correctly, the bill will:

  • Improve communication between responsible agencies;
  • It will require accountability and transparency from everybody;
  • And it will provide resources to update facilities, train and hire qualified staff

Passing the bill in a very partisan Congress was not easy.

But even more difficult will be your work to implement it in a way that works for Indian Country.  In a way that truly makes all Indian communities safer.

The law will challenge all of us.

It challenges tribal courts to take on a bigger role.

It challenges U.S. Attorneys to either prosecute crimes or explain why you don’t.

It challenges Congress to adequately fund public safety systems and provide oversight.

As you can see, we are partners in this effort.

We are all responsible to do our part to make Montana communities safer.

I’ll do my part – making sure I’m in touch with Indian law enforcers.  That’s why I recently met with Sheriff “Napi” Billedeaux in Glacier County.  And Sheriff Jay Doyle in Lake County.

I look forward to working with all of you in this effort.

Thank you again for the good work you do.

And as always, be in touch.  I can only push good policies in the U.S. Senate if I get good information from folks in Montana.  My door is always open, and I look forward to hearing from you.