Task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people holds first meeting
WASHINGTON – The U.S. departments of Justice, Interior and Health and Human Services on Jan. 29 held the first meeting of a White House task force to address the incidence of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to a DOJ press release.
The task force, co-chaired by Attorney General William P. Barr and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and composed of federal officials, is charged with enhancing the criminal justice response, consulting with tribal governments on potential solutions and empowering Native communities with information.
“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,” Barr said.
Barr said the task force is committed to addressing this challenge, reducing violence and protecting the vulnerable from exploitation and abuse by working with tribal partners to find solutions, raise awareness and bring answers and justice to the grieving.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Native people deserve safety and security in their communities.
“HHS has a vital role in helping by providing culturally appropriate prevention and trauma informed services to victims and their families,” Azar said.
According to the press release, American Indians and Alaska Natives experience “disproportionately” high rates of violence. President Trump has called the crisis “sobering and heartbreaking.”
Also according to the release, the task force is designated as Operation Lady Justice and has been “empowered to 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, the task force will:
• Consult with tribal governments on the scope and nature of the problem;
• Hold regional consultations and listening sessions at locations around the country;
• Host a listening session on Feb 12 at the National Congress of American Indians’
Executive Council winter session in Washington, D.C.;
• Develop model protocols and procedures for addressing new and unsolved cases of missing and murdered persons in tribal communities;
• Establish a multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional team that 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.
Task force members are:
• Katherine Sullivan, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs,
• Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs,
• Terry Wade, executive assistant director of Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch for the Federal Bureau of Investigation
• Laura Rogers, acting director of the Office on Violence Against Women
• Charles Addington, deputy bureau director of the BIA for the Office of Justice Services
• Trent Shores, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and
• Jean Hovland, deputy assistant secretary for the Native American Affairs.
Marcia Good of the Justice Department is designated to serve as executive director of the task force and will present a progress report to the president by Nov. 26 and a final report detailing its activities and accomplishments by Nov. 26, 2021.