OVC Acting Director Speaks at Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day Event
OVC Acting Director Katherine Darke Schmitt gave remarks during a special event, hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, and Administration for Native Americans, to honor missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives in commemoration of President Biden’s 2021 proclamation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day.
KATHERINE DARKE SCHMITT: Greetings. My name is Katherine Darke Schmitt and I am the Acting Director for the Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, I'm also the Deputy Director at OVC over the Tribal Division.
I am honored to join the Administration for Native Americans for this sobering recognition of American Indians and Alaska Natives who have been murdered or who have been missing over this past year.
My office is devoted to ensuring that crime victims receive the services, care, and justice that they deserve. And I am heartbroken by the continued need to call attention to this crisis.
At OVC we are committed to addressing the disparities that indigenous peoples face and we have taken a number of actions in recent years towards that end, starting with listening to tribal leaders and tribal stakeholders. At their urging, we stood up the Tribal Division at OVC to help streamline the distribution and management of awards and to ensure that we are appropriately staffed to serve our tribal grantees. Since launching last year, the Tribal Division's portfolio continues to expand, in fact we are currently hosting a tribal grantee orientation meeting at which over 650 representatives of American Indian and Alaska Native communities are participating.
Our grant programs and our policy work keep us busy but we are anchored in what really matters, serving crime victims in tribal communities; a week or so ago I had a poignant reminder of this. One of the members of my team came to a morning meeting and mentioned that she had been awake most of the night worrying about a case that she had been following, in which a couple of young adults had been trafficked from a reservation to an urban area; their families were worried about them, their communities were worried about them, my staff was worried about them.
By working her contacts in victim services agencies in the region where these young people were thought to be, my staff was able to find space for them in a shelter where they could get the services they needed and where they could safely re-establish contact with their families and their communities. She had finally gotten the call to say they were in the safe house and that they were all right, and then she was able to relax and turn to other work.
But we all have those moments where we are holding our breath waiting for the phone call to know that everything is going to be okay, and we know that you have those moments too.
Just 2 weeks ago we marked the 40th anniversary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. In his NCVRW Proclamation, President Biden made it clear that support for crime victims in American Indian and Native Alaskan communities is a priority of his administration, and it is certainly a priority at the Office for Victims of Crime.
We will continue to listen to and work closely with our tribal partners to address the crisis of violence against American Indians and Native Alaskans. Thank you for working with us.
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