A recent executive order established a task force to work with tribal governments to address missing and murdered indigenous people.
The task force, established by President Donald Trump’s Nov. 26 executive order launching Operation Lady Justice, is to consult with tribes on the scope and nature of missing and murdered Native Americans; develop protocols and procedures for unsolved cases, including those that improve the collection and sharing of data among jurisdictions; the better use of existing criminal databases, such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the Combined DNA Index System.
The task force is also to establish multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional team; clarify roles, authorities and jurisdiction for the duration of cases involving missing and murdered Native people, and develop and outreach campaign for communities most affected by crimes against Native people, among other provisions.
“The statistics are sobering and heartbreaking,” Trump said at the signing ceremony. “Recently, more than 5,000 Native American women and girls were reported missing in a single year. While the majority return home or are found, too many are still missing and their whereabouts are unknown — they usually don’t find them.”
Trump cited statistics showing that Native women in some tribal communities are 10 times more likely to be murdered than are other Americans. He said they and their families deserve action.
The level of violence against Native women has long been a concern.
Sing Our Rivers Red highlights the epidemic of violence against Native women in the U.S. and Canada, by presenting exhibits of jewelry that belonged to missing and murdered Native American women and girls. One such earring belonged to Nicole Redhorse, who was murdered in 2007 in Durango; she died as the result of a prolonged sexual assault.
7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller traveled to Durango as a special prosecutor to retry one of Redhorse’s assailants, who was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 48 years in prison.
The National Institute of Justice stats showed 84 percent of Native women have been subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence in their lifetime, as the New York Times (Maya Salam) reported earlier this year.
The NYT, citing the Urban Indian Health Institute, also reported 506 indigenous women and girls have disappeared or been killed in 71 American cities (2016) and, although 5,712 were reported missing that year, only 116 were in the Department of Justice’s database for missing persons.
The new Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives will be co-chaired by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Attorney General William P. Barr.
“President Trump has brought this issue out of the shadows and into the light — focusing on public safety, justice and economic strength in previously forgotten American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” said Bernhardt, in remarks provided in a news release from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“At the Department of the Interior, we are committed to upholding our trust responsibilities to Native peoples and advancing tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”
Other top officials within the federal government will assist: Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher A. Wray; Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney; Department of Justice Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Laura Rogers; Department of the Interior Director of the Office of Justice Services within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Charles Addington;
Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee U.S. Attorney Trent Shores; Department of Health and Human Service Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans Jean Hovland and designees as determined by the co-chairs.
The culmination of the multi-agency task force began several months ago with the Department of the Interior’s initiative “Reclaiming Our Native Communities,” led by Sweeney.
“This is a great day for Lady Justice. Over the last year and a half, our partnership with the White House and other federal agencies has helped bring this issue to the forefront,” said Sweeney. “Every step of the way, we have been and continue to be committed to tackling this complex issue.”
On June 11, the initial event for Operation Lady Justice took place on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Sacaton, Arizona. Since then, Sweeney has traveled throughout the country hosting numerous listening sessions and roundtables intended to support an initiative to reclaim our Native communities by focusing resources on cold cases, violent crimes and missing and murdered Native Americans.
“This is a historic day. President Trump’s leadership on this important issue will further empower us to roll up our sleeves to work together and make a difference to native families throughout the country who are still seeking healing and justice,” said Katharine MacGregor, Deputy Chief of Staff exercising the authority of the Deputy Secretary.
On Nov. 22 in Montana, Barr announced the Justice Department’s national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative places MMIP coordinators in 11 U.S. Attorney’s offices who will develop protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to missing cases.
The plan also calls for the deployment of the FBI’s most advanced response capabilities when needed, improved data collection and analysis, and training to support local response efforts.
“American Indian and Alaska Native people suffer from unacceptable and disproportionately high levels of violence, which can have lasting impacts on families and communities. Native American women face particularly high rates of violence, with at least half suffering sexual or intimate-partner violence in their lifetime,” said Barr.
“Too many of these families have experienced the loss of loved ones who went missing or were murdered. President Trump establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives will enable us to further strengthen the federal, state, and tribal law enforcement response to these continuing problems.”
The task force will report to Trump no less than two times a year.
The president designated May 5 as Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day to draw attention to the horrible acts of violence committed against American Indian and Alaska Native people, particularly women and children.
American Indian and Alaska Native people face alarming levels of violence.
Data from the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that more than 1.5 million American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, including sexual violence, in their lifetimes.
American Indian and Alaska Native children attempt and commit suicide at rates far higher than those in any other demographic in our Nation, and often endure disproportionately high rates of endemic drug abuse, violence, and crime.