The Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services recently held the first meeting of a White House task force to address the incidence of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The task force, co-chaired by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Attorney General William Barr, is composed of federal officials charged with enhancing the criminal justice response, consulting with tribal governments on potential solutions and empowering native communities with information.
“President Trump is committed to addressing systemic challenges in Indian Country, and this task force will develop and implement an aggressive, government-wide strategy to combat the crisis of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Secretary David Bernhardt. “By working together and listening to impacted citizens and tribal communities, we intend to tackle these complex issues.”
“The disappearance and death of American Indian and Alaska Native people, particularly women and girls, is an especially tragic chapter in a long story of marginalization and trauma suffered by native people,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “We are committed to addressing this challenge, to reducing the violence and protecting the vulnerable from exploitation and abuse. The task force is eager to get to work to address the issues that underlie this terrible problem, and work with our tribal partners to find solutions, raise awareness, and bring answers and justice to the grieving.”
“I am grateful that President Trump has made it a priority to tackle the tragic issue of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Native Americans deserve safety and security in their communities, and HHS has a vital role in helping by providing culturally appropriate prevention and trauma informed services to victims and their families. I am committed to working in partnership with President Trump, Attorney General Barr, Secretary Bernhardt, and tribal leaders and members to make a positive impact on this important challenge.”
American Indians and Alaska Natives experience disproportionately high rates of violence. President Trump has called the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans “sobering and heartbreaking.” The task force, designated Operation Lady Justice, has been empowered review Indian Country cold cases, to strengthen law enforcement protocols, and work with tribes to improve investigations, information sharing and a more seamless response to missing persons investigations. Specifically, it will:
- Consult with tribal governments on the scope and nature of the problem and will hold regional consultations and listening sessions at several locations around the country;
- Develop model protocols and procedures for addressing both new and unsolved cases of missing and murdered persons in tribal communities;
- Establish a multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional team, which will include tribal law enforcement, to review cold cases;
- Address issues related to roles, authorities and jurisdiction among tribal, local, state and federal agencies; and
- Develop and execute a public awareness, education and outreach campaign for affected communities.
- The task force will host its first listening session at the National Congress of American Indians’ Executive Council Winter Session in Washington, D.C. on February 12.
The members of the task force are:
- Katharine Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, designee for the Attorney General;
- Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, designee for the Secretary of the Interior;
- Terry Wade, Executive Assistant Director, Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation;
- Laura Rogers, Acting Director, Office on Violence Against Women;
- Charles Addington, Deputy Bureau Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services;
- Trent Shores, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma and Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee; and
- Jean Hovland, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs and Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans, Department of Health and Human Services.
In accordance with the President’s Executive Order, Attorney General Barr designated Marcia Good of the Department of Justice, to serve as Executive Director of the task force, which will present a progress report to the President by November 26, 2020, and a final report detailing its activities and accomplishments by November 26, 2021.
This is a press release from the US Department of Interior.