Troy Eid’s Empathy for Native America Began with His Father’s Journey

Troy  Eid was the United States Attorney for the District of Colorado from 2006 to 2009, and from that office quickly gained the reputation of being a thoughtful and concerned advocate for pubic safety and criminal justice in Indian country.

As the state’s chief federal prosecutor, he was instrumental in moving against a string of unresolved murders on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in southwestern Colorado. But Eid’s advocacy for Native justice landed him in hot water with his bosses at the Justice Department.

Writing in the journal The Federal Lawyer in 2007, Eid outlined the problems occurring on Ute Mountain, as well as shortcomings with federal criminal justice on Native lands elsewhere. Although he had pre-cleared the article with the Justice Department, his ideas drew the attention of then U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The Justice Department ordered Eid to disavow his article, saying he lacked any authority to write it. One top Justice official threatened Eid with being taken to the “woodshed.” A formal reprimand loomed.

When Dorgan asked Eid, a Republican, to testify before his committee, the Justice Department refused to allow it, claiming executive privilege.“I did not back down,” Eid said of the troubled period. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned later that year and eventually the matter blew over.

Not only that, many of the strands of the then controversial article can be found in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, as well as in the final report of the national Indian Law and Order Commission, appointed by President Obama and the majority and minority leaders of Congress, and of which Eid served as chairman.

Eid traces his empathy for the disadvantaged and the plight of Native people to his family background.

“Part of it is my dad’s journey. He came to the U.S. from Egypt with 100 bucks in the ‘50s. He went to British school, the boarding school model with the forced assimilation they thought they had perfected. My dad could speak six languages but if they were caught speaking Arabic they’d be beaten on the legs with a long bamboo cane and have their mouths washed out with soap. Those are the same kind of stories you hear across Indian country.”

But as he became more deeply involved – he regularly conducts legal seminars and training on the vast Navajo Nation, for example – he learned much more on his own.

“If we lose Native America we lose a big part of our national identity,” Eid said. “I’ve been fortunate to be a guest at many ceremonies, and there is just an extraordinary depth and richness to our Native peoples. There’s an extraordinary amount of strength among those who’ve been marginalized in so many instances.

“But you can’t work in Indian country without understanding there’s tragedy there. There’s tragedy all the time.”

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