Federal Bureau of Investigation agents don’t receive cultural awareness or language training when assigned to serve Indian reservations. Many tribal communities don’t believe non-tribal court personnel and non-tribal police are culturally sensitive.
Nevertheless, FBI agents have an extensive range of language and cultural sensitivity training courses available to them when serving in foreign nations. In recent years, FBI headquarters established a Language Services Translation Center, capable of translating in 100 languages, and has developed language training and cultural awareness materials available to FBI employees in 32 different languages. Most of the FBI’s linguistic and cultural training is focused on monitoring terrorist activities in foreign countries. None of the language or cultural awareness training offered to FBI employees includes support for FBI agents assigned to tribal communities.
In Indian country, FBI agents are responsible for investigating the various serious crimes listed in the Major Crimes Act including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, assaults, arson, burglary, robbery and various felonies. County or state police are responsible for investigating major crimes on reservations in Public Law 280 states.
The method of revolving police assignments limits the ability of FBI agents to gain cumulative knowledge and experience, and get to know how to better serve tribal communities.
However, most FBI agents do not have experience with investigating most crimes on the Major Crimes Act list. FBI investigation priorities include counterterrorism, counterintelligence, cyber crime, public corruption, civil rights violations, organized crime, white-collar crime, and major thefts or violent crimes. Indian country crimes are listed under major thefts or violent crimes. Since Major Crimes Act violations are federal offenses, FBI agents are assigned to investigate major crimes in non-Public Law 280 Indian reservations.
For most FBI agents, investigating crime on Indian reservations is a low priority assignment. Few agents apply for the service to spend their careers investigating crime on Indian reservations. They tend to move between assignments as they work through their careers and often agents serve a particular group of Indian reservations for limited times. Hence non-tribal federal police officers have limited opportunities to learn and understand a tribal community before they are reassigned to new postings or other types of activities. The method of revolving police assignments limits the ability of FBI agents to gain cumulative knowledge and experience, and get to know how to better serve tribal communities.
Tribal community members are concerned about the absence of cultural understanding and awareness expressed by FBI agents. The agents are not trained in American Indian cultures, histories, languages, or contemporary policies or law. FBI agents are assigned to several tribal communities at the same time, further inhibiting the possibility that they will get to know any one reservation community well enough to conduct effective interviews, elicit cooperation, and gain trust from the tribal communities.
In recent years, the FBI has found that it must increase its commitment to train agents in language and cultural awareness to effectively operate in foreign countries. Reservations are communities with distinct cultures, languages, community relations, histories, legal and policy relations, and FBI agents could more effectively serve tribal communities if they had more cultural training and sustained interactions with tribal communities.
More direct contact and cultural understanding by FBI agents will build trust, cooperation, and greatly facilitate more effective crime investigations and crime solving on Indian reservations. Tribal communities need to know that FBI agents will carry out their duties with respect for tribal community, goals and values. Without greater cultural understanding from FBI agents, community supported justice will be hard to achieve on federal Indian reservations.