U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is reiterating the Justice Department’s commitment to civil rights cases for Native Americans.
Garland pointed to the case announced earlier this year involving the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City.
As South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s Lee Strubinger reports, one group wants the DOJ to do more.
The Justice Department announced its lawsuit against the hotel in October.
That came several months after the owner posted on social media that Native Americans were no longer allowed at their hotel and bar.
Days after, some Native people were allegedly denied service.
Garland says protecting the civil rights of all individuals was a founding purpose of the department.
“It remains an urgent priority. For example, earlier this fall the Department filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of a hotel and bar in South Dakota for violating the civil rights act of 1964 by discriminating against Native American customers. The justice Department is working to make good on our commitment to improve the well-being of tribal communities.”
The president of group that initially brought the lawsuit says he appreciates the DOJ looking into racist activity in Rapid City.
However, NDN Collective’s Nick Tilsen says the department is not willing to look deeper into systemic racism.
“We asked them to expand the scope of their investigation because we understand the behaviors of the Grand Gateway Hotel are a byproduct of a culture of systematic racism here in the community. Taking down Grand Gateway—or holding them accountable—is not going to be the end all for us.”
Tilsen also says NDN Collective and others are asking the DOJ to pardon country’s longest serving Indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
The public comment period ends Monday, December 5 on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft of its Alaska Native Relations policy.
Crystal Ciisquq Leonetti is the agency’s Alaska Native Affairs Specialist.
“So while the Native American policy applies everywhere, including Alaska, we needed to have these unique considerations.”
The draft policy recognizes the impacts of climate change on Alaska’s landscape.
It also mentions the inclusion of Indigenous traditional knowledge in co-management efforts.
The policy will also require Alaska Native Relations training and education for Fish and Wildlife Service employees.
“That is designed to illuminate the beautiful, diverse cultures of Alaska Native people, the current status of the nutritional and spiritual and cultural connection to living a subsistence way of life… that it is also really important for Alaska Native people to continue that way of life for reasons beyond nutrition.”
The relationship between the agency and Alaska Native people has not always been amicable. Leonetti says improving those relationships is central to developing the policy.
Since 2016, she’s worked alongside a 12 member team of representatives from every region of Alaska.
“We wanted to make sure every word and every sentence was agreed upon by the entire group. And if it wasn’t, we talked about it until we could agree on the language that made sense for everybody.”
Leonetti expects it will be signed and included in the agency’s national manual sometime in 2023.
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