HELENA — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought Tuesday to deepen ties with Native Americans by allowing more tribal nations to tap into national anti-crime databases.
Sessions detailed the move as part of a package of measures to help tribal authorities combat crime on reservations from the Puget Sound area of Washington state to the Adirondacks in New York.
The centerpiece is an expansion of an Obama administration program launched in 2015 that gives some tribal nations access to the criminal data.
Nine tribes were already a part of the program that Sessions said he would expand to 10 more tribes. The move was first announced in December.
Law enforcement officials on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana began using the federal databases on Tuesday, giving them access to additional background on individuals, including those who might have crossed state lines.
Ken Trottier, supervising investigator for the reservation, said the new tools will help fight an entrenched problem with meth and other criminal activity spawned by a population boom in the Bakken oil region.
“Suddenly we saw a lot of strange and new faces — people we didn’t know. It was just tough to find out anything about them,” Trottier said. “This is going to be our way of staying that one step ahead.”
Access to federal databases will also soon expand to the Metlakatla Indians of Alaska, Navajo of the Southwest and the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Cheppewa Indians, among other tribes.
The broader mission is focused on strengthening relationships with reservations across the country. Complex historical, cultural and legal relationships between tribes and the U.S. government have complicated that effort in the past.
“Law enforcement in Indian Country faces unique practical and jurisdictional challenges,” Sessions said in a statement, “and the Department of Justice is committed to working with them to provide greater access to technology, information and necessary enforcement.”
The Justice Department will be holding a series of “listening sessions” with tribal leaders and law enforcement officials to better understand the challenges they face in addressing crime.
The department has also created a working group, comprised of federal officials from 12 agencies, to increase collaboration between U.S. authorities and those in sovereign Indian nations.