Home News Speeches The FBI's Role in Indian Country
  • Grant D. Ashley
  • Executive Assistant Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • National Native American Law Enforcement Association 12th Annual Training Conference
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • October 28, 2004

Good morning! It is truly a pleasure to be here. You didn't have to twist my arm too much to get me back to Las Vegas.

One of the things I love best about Las Vegas is the way that different cultures and traditions are incorporated into the city's buildings and attractions. Back in Washington, there is also a new theme building, dedicated solely to the culture and traditions of Native Americans. In September, Native Americans from across the country came together to celebrate the grand opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. This magnificent new museum provides a place for all Americans to come and learn about the history, hardships, accomplishments, culture, and spirituality of Native Americans. It will stand as a lasting monument to the incredible contributions Native Americans have made throughout our nation's history. ***

Today, I want to give you a brief overview of the FBI's role in Indian Country and tell you what we are doing both now and in the future to improve the safety and security of your nations.

The FBI has federal law enforcement responsibility on more than 200 Indian Reservations. We also provide forensic and investigative services to law enforcement officials on those reservations we do not cover. As you all know, the September 11 attacks made it necessary for the FBI to shift many agents out of drug investigations and other criminal programs to pursue counterterrorism investigations. But one area we have not cut back on is Indian Country. In fact, we have expanded.

Over 100 Special Agents are currently working full-time in support of Indian Country investigative matters. In 2004, those agents initiated nearly 1,900 cases. A new Safe Trails Task Force is planned for Minnesota next year. We added a Victim Specialist to our Reno Resident Agency. The Indian Gaming Working group is up and running nationwide. And the joint Indian Country Training Initiative has 25 training events scheduled for next year.

We in the FBI remain committed to working with you to protect Indian Country. First and foremost, we are committed to preventing and investigating crime. One of our most important joint efforts is the Safe Trails Task Forces, which bring federal, state, local and tribal resources together to combat violent crime, drugs, and corruption. We have a total of 12 Safe Trails Task Forces nationwide. They have made a real difference in investigating crime and keeping Native American communities safe. And as I mentioned, another Safe Trails Task Force will be coming to Minnesota in 2005.

In addition to gathering evidence during investigations, the FBI Laboratory's Indian Country Task Force is devoted solely to processing evidence from Indian Country cases. Tribes can now submit evidence directly to our lab, and the task force has reduced the processing time for DNA evidence from nearly a year to under 60 days.

Second, we are committed to assisting victims of crime. Twenty-five percent of our entire cadre of victim specialists, some of whom are Native Americans, are assigned exclusively to Indian Country. They provide a wide range of services, including transporting child victims to interviews and critical services, finding emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, and helping families of homicide victims. The FBI also partners with the Indian Police Academy to offer training clinics in forensic child interviewing.

I am thrilled to tell you that later this month, in partnership with the Tohono O'odham Nation and the Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center, we will officially open a new child forensic interviewing center in Sells, Arizona, called "The Tohono O'odham Reservation Children's House," or TORCH. Another Child Interviewing Center will be opening on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota in early November. These centers provide a place for child victims to feel secure while being interviewed by law enforcement and victim specialists, and give them a safe place to start their recovery process.

Third, we are committed to combating criminal activity at Indian gaming establishments. Today, there are more than 360 such gaming facilities around the country. They bring in total revenues of nearly 17 billion dollars. That is more than Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined. The upside of this phenomenal growth is an economic boon to many Native American tribes; the downside is the increased potential for criminal activity.

To confront this threat, last year, the FBI established the Indian Gaming Working Group, an interagency group that identifies and directs resources to address the most pressing Indian gaming violations. The group includes officials from the FBI, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Indian Gaming Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service, among others. Numerous investigations have been initiated as a result of their efforts, and the Indian Gaming Working Group provides funding and personnel assistance to these cases. We are working together with you to ensure the integrity of gaming as a source of revenue and to keep casinos crime-free.

Fourth, we are committed to providing high-quality training to tribal law enforcement. We coordinate closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement Services and the Indian Police Academy in New Mexico. Since 1997, we have trained over 4,000 Indian Country law enforcement officers and support personnel. We also train doctors and social workers, in an effort to help create a highly professional workforce ready to handle everything from homicides to child sexual abuse to gang violence. In 2004, we offered training in homicide investigations, sexual assault, crime scene processing, officer survival, gaming, interview and interrogation, and crisis management, to name a few. We recognize that each of your communities faces different and ever-changing threats. I encourage you to work with your local FBI field office or the Indian Country Unit to identify your specific training needs.

***
Our combined efforts to train officers, investigate crime, assist victims, and bring perpetrators to justice are paying off. Two years ago, for example, our Billings, Montana office received information that a former Air Force officer had abused a nine-year-old girl. In executing a search warrant, FBI and BIA agents discovered child pornography on the suspect's computer – some of which had been manufactured by the suspect. We arrested Jeffrey Speelman, and he pled guilty to sexual abuse and the possession of child pornography. In January he was sentenced to over 60 years in federal prison.

Let me give you a prime example of a very sensitive, and very successful, joint investigation among the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal law enforcement, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, spanning nearly 30 years. Many of you may be familiar with the case of Anna Mae Aquash, who was murdered on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. In the early 1970s, Aquash became involved with the American Indian Movement. She quickly gained stature and access to the highest levels of leadership within the organization, but also gained enemies who mistrusted her motives. In fact, members Arlo Looking Cloud, John Graham, and Theda Clarke falsely suspected her of being an informant. They took her to a remote location on the Pine Ridge Reservation and executed her.

In March 2003, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were indicted on charges of first degree murder by a federal grand jury. Looking Cloud was arrested in Denver a week later. He was sentenced in April 2004 to life in prison. John Graham, also charged with first degree murder, awaits extradition from Canada, which will hopefully take place later this year. Anna Mae Aquash's daughter, Debbie Maloney, who is now a Constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was finally able to bring her mother's remains back to her home reservation in Canada for burial.

***
Just as partnerships will continue to be critical in protecting Indian Country from violence and injustice, partnerships will also continue to be vital to protecting our country from crime and terrorism. I once heard a Native American proverb that says, "I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for man to depend simply on himself." That sums it up – in an age when criminal and terrorist threats are increasingly complex and interconnected, no agency, no department, no country can succeed alone.

The September 11th attacks on our homeland made it painfully clear that law enforcement and intelligence agencies could no longer afford to work separately or hold onto their own information. Before September 11th, we did not have the seamless coordination that is crucial to defending our country and our fellow citizens.

Today, we do have that cooperation. It is unprecedented, and it is powerful. Together, we have made tremendous progress, but our work is not yet finished.

Terrorist attacks around the world are deadly reminders that terrorists are still determined to attack Americans, whether overseas or within our borders. All American communities have been turned into the front lines. Today's threats do not stop at the borders of your reservations. We all worry about terrorists attempting to cross into the United States through Indian Country, or that the same open borders used by illegal aliens in search of work could also serve as access points for terrorists.

While other agencies take the lead on border security, the FBI still has a responsibility to include tribes in our homeland security efforts. To that end, the FBI participates on the Federal Agency Advisory Panel of the Tribal Border Security Project, which was spearheaded by you, the members of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association, as well as the National Congress of American Indians. Together, we are working to develop interoperable communications and equipment among tribal law enforcement agencies, the Border Patrol, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. And it isn't just agents from the Indian Country Unit that serve on the panel – the FBI also has representatives whose primary focus is on alien smuggling and other border security issues.

Today's criminals and terrorists operate at every level and we must continue to fight back at every level. The FBI will continue to develop our strategic partnerships with law enforcement agencies across the world – but also here, with tribal police departments, the BIA, the Indian Health Service, the National Congress of American Indians, and all of you. By working together, we can have a tremendous impact on the safety and security of our homeland.

The men and women of the FBI are proud to be your partners. I am honored to have had the opportunity to talk to you today. And if any of you are interested in working more closely with us – or coming to work for us – please give us a call! May God bless all of you.

 
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