Opinion: Fired U.S. Attorney helped Michigan tribes

"Lost in the accounts of the eight U.S. attorneys recently dismissed or asked to resign by the Department of Justice is the potential impact on Indian country. Four of the fired U.S. attorneys represented federal districts with a significant tribal presence - Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Michigan - and they had dedicated significant federal resources to prosecuting crime in Indian country. One of the fired attorneys is Hon. Margaret Chiara, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. During her tenure, which began in 2001, Chiara offered an incredible template for creating and maintaining a positive and powerful relationship between the DOJ and Indian tribes.

Eleven Indian tribes are situated in the Western District, with five of them located almost in another country, the Upper Peninsula, accessible only by puddle-jumping turboprop planes landing in Marquette or by crossing the stunning Mackinac Bridge and driving on bumpy two-lane highways for upwards of 12 hours from Grand Rapids. Despite these incredible distances, Chiara's office demonstrated to all U.S. attorney offices with significant Indian country relationships that a genuinely productive relationship can exist between the government and the tribes. She personally visited virtually all Indian tribes in her district on a regular basis, creating a strong personal connection to Indian country. She brought along her staff and officials from other federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals.

Michigan tribes have always had a strong relationship with the office prior to the arrival of Chiara through the hard work of tribal liaison Jeff Davis, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, but Chiara's commitment to Indian country far exceeded tribal expectations. Chiara's office's work in developing protocols for domestic violence investigation and prosecution (including work with Michigan State University College of Law students) and trainings in full faith and credit, tribal police procedures and Project Safe Neighborhoods, a gun violence reduction project, helped to develop a strong cooperative aspect to Indian country law enforcement. The office's tribal liaison Web site is one of the best in the nation - www.usdoj.gov/usao/miw/native.html - offering links to an annual Indian country report produced by Chiara's office and links to information about Michigan Indian country."

Get the Story:
Matthew L.M. Fletcher: The U.S. attorney mess and Indian country (Indian Country Today 3/30)

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