Report on the Fourth Convening of the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls
Earlier this month, on July 13 and 14, the White House hosted the fourth convening of the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls (Trilateral Working Group) with our partners from the governments of Mexico and Canada, along with Indigenous women leaders from all three countries. The three countries issued a Joint Statement reaffirming our commitment to continue working together, in partnership with Indigenous peoples and particularly with Indigenous women, to advance prevention efforts, increase support for survivors, and enhance regional coordination to better address root causes that increase vulnerability to all forms of gender-based violence.
The Trilateral Working Group is a collaborative initiative among the governments of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, which was first established as an outcome of the North American Leaders’ Summit in 2016. This initiative reaffirms and advances our respective national and regional commitments to prevent and respond to all forms of gender-based violence impacting Indigenous women and girls, as well as Two-Spirit, gender-diverse, and LGBTQI+ persons, through increased access to justice and services, with a human rights, survivor-centered and culturally-responsive approach. The United States hosted the inaugural launch of the Trilateral Working Group in 2016, and subsequent convenings were held in Canada in 2017 and in Mexico in 2018.
At the UN Generation Equality Forum in June 2021 the Biden-Harris Administration committed to relaunching this regional collaboration by hosting the fourth convening of the Trilateral Working Group in 2022, in collaboration with the governments of Mexico and Canada, with the goals of improving regional coordination and enhancing individual country responses to gender-based violence.
Fourth Convening of the Trilateral Working Group
The fourth convening of the Trilateral Working Group focused on key issues identified by Indigenous women leaders from the United States, Mexico, and Canada, following a half-day virtual engagement hosted by the White House last November 2021. Those issues were grouped into the following three priority themes:
- Strengthening Access to Justice: Addressing culturally and linguistically-specific approaches to justice and healing to address gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and missing or murdered Indigenous women, young women, and girls in all their diversity, including Two-Spirit and gender-diverse individuals.
- Addressing Root Causes of Gender-Based Violence: Comprehensively addressing root causes of gender-based violence, including a focus on economic security, as well as climate change and accompanying issues such as food insecurity.
- Advancing Indigenous Women’s Leadership: Reducing barriers and creating equitable and safe spaces to advance leadership and representation of Indigenous women, young women, Two-Spirit, and gender-diverse individuals at all levels of government (Tribal, national, state, and local government) and in civil society.
During the pre-meeting on July 13, the White House Gender Policy Council, Domestic Policy Council, and Office for Intergovernmental Affairs welcomed government and Indigenous representatives from Canada and Mexico, both in-person at the White House, and virtually, for a pre-meeting.
Government officials from all three countries exchanged promising practices for preventing and addressing gender-based violence against Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ+ persons. At the same time, Indigenous women leaders participated in an Indigenous women’s circle, co-facilitated by representatives from the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which provided them an opportunity to engage in independent discussion and relationship-building.
Following the pre-meeting, there was a welcome reception at the National Museum of the American Indian, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities and coordinated by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The reception also featured an honor song dedicated to missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls in North America.
On July 14, the fourth official meeting of the Trilateral Working Group was held at the U.S. Department of the Interior for a full day of discussions of each of the priority themes led by Indigenous women leaders and senior government officials. Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Assistant to the President and White House Director for Intergovernmental Affairs, provided welcoming remarks and introduced Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who offered remarks as the head of the U.S. delegation (DOI press release available here). Remarks were also given by the Honorable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and head of the Canadian Delegation, and Dr. Cristopher Ballinas Valdes, Director General for Human Rights and Democracy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, head of the Mexican Delegation. Additionally, remarks were provided by United Nations Experts, including Ambassador Keith Harper, incoming Independent Expert from the United States to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Other U.S. government officials participated in the priority theme discussions, including senior officials from the Departments of State, Justice, Interior, and Health and Human Services.
Closing remarks were provided by Saúl Vicente Vázquez, Director for International Affairs at the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, The Honorable Minister Marc Miller for Canada, and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco for the United States (DOJ press release available here).
At the conclusion of the convening, the Canadian Minister announced that Canada will host the fifth convening of the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Women and Girls in Canada in 2023.
Administration Commitments to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, LGBTQI+ and Two-Spirit Individuals
The commitment of the United States to relaunch the North American Trilateral Working Group builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s enduring commitment to recognize Tribal sovereignty, strengthen our justice and health systems’ responses to violence against American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women and girls, LGBTQI+ and Two-Spirit individuals, as well as improve prevention efforts, and advance the human rights of Indigenous persons globally. The following highlights some of the key recent actions of the Administration to address these critical issues:
Strengthen Access to Justice
- Establishment of New Guidance for U.S. Attorneys and Federal Law Enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a new directive declaring it a DOJ priority to address the disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, including violence against women, youth, and children, as well as the high rates of Indigenous persons reported missing. The directive requires each U.S. Attorney with Indian country jurisdiction — along with their law enforcement partners — to update and develop new plans for addressing public safety in Indian country and to continue to work diligently with Tribal partners with respect for Tribal sovereignty.
- Creation of New National Native American Outreach Services Liaison. The Department of Justice established a new position, the National Native American Outreach Services Liaison, within the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys to spearhead its efforts to help ensure that Native victims, survivors, and their families have a voice within DOJ as they navigate the criminal justice system.
- Expanded Recognition of the Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction. The 2022 Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VAWA) expanded recognition of Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction to cover non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on Tribal law enforcement officers on Tribal lands, in addition to the crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protection orders. The Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice will provide funding through the Grants to Tribal Governments to Exercise Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction to support Tribes in the exercise of their sovereign power to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence non-Natives who commit these crimes. DOJ will also implement provisions in VAWA to develop a new pilot to support the exercise of this jurisdiction by Alaska Native villages.
- Government-to-Government Consultation on the Tribal Jurisdiction Reimbursement Program. The 2022 VAWA Reauthorization created a new Tribal Jurisdiction Reimbursement Program. The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) announced a Government-to-Government Consultation and issued a framing paper to solicit recommendations from Tribal leaders for the implementation of this new program, which will provide additional resources for Tribes that implement Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction over non-Native defendants in cases of domestic violence or dating violence, sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child abuse, and violations of protection orders in Indian country.
- Launch of the Not Invisible Act Commission. The Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General launched the Not Invisible Act Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians and on Indian Lands, which includes Tribal leaders, service providers, law enforcement officers, and family members of missing or murdered individuals, and survivors. As directed under the law, the Commission will present recommendations to the Secretary and Attorney General to improve intergovernmental coordination and establish best practices for state, Tribal, and federal law enforcement; bolster resources for survivors and victim’s families; and combat the epidemic of missing persons, murder, and trafficking of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
- Establishment of Alaska Native Crime Victims’ Center Pilot Program. The Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice will award $3 million in October 2022 to launch the Alaska Native Crime Victims’ Center of Excellence Pilot Program. The Center will engage with the 231 Federally Recognized Tribes throughout Alaska to identify, through research and assessment, the unique barriers that Alaska Native crime victims face when accessing victim services and resources, and will develop recommendations, tools, and strategies to address those barriers.
Increase Access to Trauma-Informed, Culturally Specific Services and Support for Survivors from Indigenous Communities
- Investing in Services for Native Survivors of Gender-Based Violence. The Administration will continue to provide targeted resources to Tribes and Tribal organizations to prevent and address gender-based violence, including the following investments in fiscal year 2022:
- The HHS Administration on Children, Youth and Families will award $24 million through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program in grants to Tribal programs that provide immediate shelter and supportive services for victims of family, domestic, or dating violence and their children, including efforts to raise awareness and improve prevention.
- The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women received a total FY 2022 appropriation of $65.865 million dollars in funding for grants to Tribal governments, Tribal organizations, and Tribal Coalitions, as well as other Tribal initiatives to prevent and address domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Awards with this funding are expected to be made by September 30, 2022.
- The Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime will award $130 million in grants through the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside from the Crime Victims Fund, consistent with the requirements of the Victims of Crime Act, to Indian tribes to improve services for victims of crime. These funds may be used for any purpose directly related to serving victims of crime, and OVC encourages its Tribal partners to be creative and innovative in using the funds to provide culturally-relevant, linguistically-appropriate, victim-centered services.
- Supporting Culturally-Specific Services for Indigenous Survivors of Human Trafficking. In September 2022, the HHS Office of Trafficking in Persons will fund $1.5 million in continued support for programs that provide comprehensive cultural and linguistically responsive case management to Native Americans who have experienced human trafficking, conduct outreach efforts to increase victim identification, and train service providers and community partners.
- Release of Volume One of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Report & “Road to Healing” Tour. The Department of the Interior released the first volume of the investigative report called for by the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, including an extensive and historic inventory of federally operated schools, which lays the groundwork for the agency’s work to address the intergenerational trauma created by historical federal Indian boarding school policies. As part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and in response to recommendations from the report, Secretary Haaland has launched “The Road to Healing,” a year-long tour that will provide American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system the opportunity to share their stories, help connect communities with trauma-informed support, and facilitate the collection of a permanent oral history.
- Increasing Support for Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. The HHS Administration for Children and Families awarded nearly $3 million in funds to seven additional Tribes, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations to develop and implement culturally-specific and evidence-based home visiting programs in Indigenous communities, bringing the total number of current grantees under this program to 30. These programs play a key role in preventing and addressing domestic and family violence by strengthening early childhood systems of support, as well as providing safe referrals to prenatal, pregnant, and post-partum parents for domestic violence services.
- Promoting Social and Economic Self-Sufficiency. TheDepartment of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans promotes social and economic self-sufficiency for Native Americans through the Social and Economic Development Strategies program. In FY 2022, the priority areas for funding include Veterans, Emergency Preparedness and Response, and Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).
- Supporting Survival and Vitality of Native American Languages. The preservation and vitality of Native American languages is inherently tied to the empowerment and resilience of Indigenous communities, and is also a protective factor against gender-based violence. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans (ANA) granted $5.4 million in FY 2022 funding to support Native language preservation through its Native American Language Preservation and Maintenance (P&M) and Native American Language Preservation and Maintenance – Esther Martinez Immersion (EMI) programs. These ANA programs provide opportunities to Tribes and Native organizations to assess, plan, develop and implement projects to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages.
- Development of National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence and Update of Global Strategy. Later this year, the U.S. will release the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence and an action-oriented update to the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, both of which will prioritize inclusivity, including through recognizing that Indigenous women and girls face intersecting forms of discrimination that put them at higher risk for experiencing GBV and undermine their access to services.
Advance the Leadership of Indigenous Women and Youth
- Launching of Indian Youth Service Corp. Secretary of the Interior Haaland launched the Indian Youth Service Corp, a new partnership-based program that will provide meaningful education, employment and training opportunities to Indigenous youth through conservation projects on public and Indian lands, putting young people on a path to good-paying jobs while working to tackle the climate crisis.
- Connecting Indigenous Women and Youth Leaders to Promote Gender Equality. The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in coordination with the U.S. Embassies in Ottawa and Mexico City, is planning to sponsor an International Visitor Leadership Program exchange in 2023 to bring together Indigenous women and youth leaders to promote gender equality in their communities and prevent gender-based violence.
- Supporting the Leadership of Indigenous Women to Provide Training and Support for Tribes and Tribal Organizations. The HHS Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family Violence Prevention and Services Program will award $1,400,000 in September 2022 to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to continue its work to provide training and technical assistance for Tribes and tribal organizations serving domestic violence survivors and enhance their capacity to support prevention efforts.
- White House Council on Native American Affairs Hosts Native Women Symposium Series. This series, titledNative Women Rising: Inspiring the Future, will spotlight critical issues impacting Native women, including the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people, health, and economic development issues. The first session focused on the reauthorization of VAWA and the addition of new provisions to enhance safety and services for Native American survivors of gender-based violence. The remainder of the sessions will take place throughout 2022, engaging Native leaders in dialogue on bolstering ongoing commitments to address these critical issues.
Additional Highlights of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Record of Investing in Tribal Communities and Supporting Indigenous Survivors of Gender-Based Violence
Since taking office, President Biden has led a whole-of-government approach to bolster the safety, security, and wellbeing of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities. The following actions are examples of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing commitment to working in partnership with Tribal Nations to prevent and address all forms of gender-based violence, marshal attention to the issue of missing or murdered Indigenous persons, and elevate Indigenous leadership across all levels of government and decision-making. The following highlights some of these actions taken by the Administration:
Strengthened Access to Justice
- Reinstated White House Council on Native American Affairs (WHCNAA). The Biden-Harris Administration reinstated the WHCNAA, co-chaired by White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. The Council includes six interagency committees, one of which specifically focuses on Public Safety and Justice. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice co-chair this subcommittee to help guide other federal agencies in order to leverage federal resources to prevent and respond to violence against Native people and ensure accountability for these crimes.
- Issued Executive Order on Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People. This Executive Order, signed by President Biden in November 2021, directed the White House and key federal agencies to improve criminal justice practices, Tribal judicial support services, prevention efforts, and victim services in Indian country, as well as for Indigenous people in urban areas. This EO further instructed key federal agencies to develop strategies related to data collection, analysis, and information-sharing to address jurisdictional challenges. The EO also instructed the Department of Justice, working with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other executive departments and agencies, to develop a coordinated and comprehensive law enforcement strategy to prevent and respond to violence against Native Americans, including addressing the ongoing crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people.
- Launched a Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Department of the Interior. The MMU, within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) at the Department of the Interior, provides leadership and direction for cross-departmental and interagency work involving missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. The MMU helps put the full weight of the federal government into investigating these cases and marshals law enforcement resources across federal agencies and throughout Indian country. In December 2021, BIA-OJS launched a website dedicated to aiding in solving missing or murdered cases in Indian Country. The site is a tool to help law enforcement, families and communities share critical information and tips about missing or murdered individuals.
- Launched Steering Committee to Address the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons in the Department of Justice. The Steering Committee is tasked, in consultation with Tribal leaders and stakeholders, with reviewing the Department of Justice’s current guidance, policies, and practices to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous persons and developing a comprehensive plan to strengthen the Department’s work, which was submitted to the President in July 2022. In April 2022, DOJ also launched a new website dedicated to providing resources and information about the issues of missing or murdered Indigenous persons.
- Increased Referrals to Culturally-Specific Services for Indigenous Survivors of Human Trafficking. As part of ongoing implementation of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, the HHS Office of Trafficking in Persons supported an initiative by the National Human Trafficking Hotline to expand the programs within its referral network to include 46 service providers that specialize in working with Indigenous populations so that Indigenous survivors can better access culturally competent resources.
- Launched SOAR for Indigenous Communities. The HHS Office of Trafficking in Persons and the Administration for Native Americans launched the revised “SOAR for Indigenous Communities,” a training module on human trafficking in August 2021. SOAR (Stop, Observe, Ask, Respond) is a nationally-accredited training program for health and social services professionals. This training is designed for individuals and organizations serving Indigenous populations disproportionately impacted by human trafficking. It was developed through a collaboration with subject matter experts, Indigenous individuals with lived experience, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, the National Council for Urban Indian Health, and the Innovations Human Trafficking Collaborative.
- Supported Human Trafficking Leadership Academy for Indigenous Survivors and Allied Professionals. The HHS Office of Trafficking in Persons graduated its first class of fellows from the Human Trafficking Leadership Academy, created specifically for Indigenous survivors and allied professionals. Fellows from this cohort developed a curriculum for Indigenous youth focused on prevention, partnered with the Kansas Office of the Attorney General to create a survivor screening tool specific to Indigenous populations, in addition to other projects.
Increased Access to Culturally Specific Services for Survivors from Indigenous Communities to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic.
President Biden signed the historic American Rescue Plan (ARP) in 2021, including unprecedented investments in grants for Tribes to provide temporary housing, assistance, and increase services and support for survivors of gender-based violence, including:
- Increased Investments in the StrongHearts Native Helpline. The HHS Administration on Children, Youth and Families awarded a total of $2 million in supplemental funding in 2021 through ARP to strengthen the capacity of the StrongHearts Native Helpline and to support the continuity of hotline services for American Indian and Alaska Native communities impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. In the first year of the pandemic, the Helpline saw an 80% increase in calls.
- Mitigated the Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence. The HHS Administration on Children, Youth and Families awarded a total of nearly $226 million in ARP supplemental grants through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, providing additional funding for 254 Tribes to assist Tribes with implementing services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who have been impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. These resources include assisting with the transition to virtual/remote services and mitigating the impact of the pandemic on services provided by rape crisis centers, sexual assault programs, Tribal programs, and culturally specific programs that provide crisis services, support services, and assistance to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
- Supported Initiatives by Indigenous Organizations to Prevent and Respond to Family Violence. Invested $9 million in ARP supplemental funding through the Family Violence Prevention and Services program of HHS in a new grant program to strengthen family violence prevention and support culturally specific services provided by urban Indigenous organizations, Tribes, tribal organizations, and Two Spirit organizations to meet the needs of survivors impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Established the Tribal Safe Housing Capacity Building Center. To address the intersection of housing instability/homelessness and domestic violence among Alaska Native and American Indian survivors, the HHS Administration on Children and Families launched the first of its kind Tribal Safe Housing Capacity Building Center in October 2021, which supports collaboration between service organizations, technical assistance providers, and tribal, federal, state, and local governmental organizations to address survivors’ housing needs.
Advanced the Leadership of Indigenous Women
- Amplified Indigenous Women and Girls’ Climate Leadership through the Innovation Station Initiative. The State Department Office of Global Women’s Issues launched “The Innovation Station” initiative in July 2021 to amplify women and girls developing innovative solutions to climate-related challenges and help them connect with new domestic and international communities that could benefit from their work. Over the past year, the initiative convened five virtual events that engaged audiences in 60 countries and 37 U.S. states. These events spotlighted 35 women innovators, and have featured several Indigenous women leaders, including Native Hawaiian activists working to preserve species of cultural and environmental significance.