Task Force Cold Case Office opens in Anchorage

BY STAFF REPORTS
08/28/2020 02:30 PM
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Justice on Aug. 26 opened its sixth to investigate cold cases involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

As part of the of Operation Lady Justice initiative, a task force has been established to address missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. The first cold case office was opened on July 27 in Bloomington, Minnesota. 

“The opening of the Operation Lady Justice cold case office here in Anchorage brings us full circle to the beginning, when the Trump Administration traveled to Nome and Bethel last August,” BIA Assistant Secretary Tara Katuk Sweeney said.  

In 2019, Sweeney led a delegation of federal officials to Nome and Bethel to meet with tribal leaders and community advocates in a series of roundtables called Reclaiming Our Native Communities. The delegation of federal officials included White House Deputy Assistant to President Trump and Director for Intergovernmental Affairs Doug Hoelscher, Domestic Policy Council Deputy Director Jennie Lichter, Senior Policy Advisor to the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans Mirtha Beadle and the BIA Office of Justice Services Director Charles Addington.  

“Those events served as the foundation for the recommendations Indian Affairs made to the Trump Administration,” Sweeney added. “The local voices guided our internal conversations, and as a result we’ve come a long way in a short time in addressing these issues through President Trump’s executive order 13898. This executive order established the Operation Lady Justice Task Force. While humbling, this is a meaningful first step in providing closure to the families of victims.” 

Administration for Native Americans Commissioner Jeannie Hovland said under Operation Lady Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior and the DOJ have increased information sharing, are collaborating on decision-making and have grown in the understanding of how her group’s work contributes to making Native communities a safer place for our relatives and future generations.

“We must move upstream to improve prevention, intervene for those in crisis, and support individuals, survivors, families, and communities in need of healing,” she said. “Tribal leaders, family members, community members, and all who have been advocating on behalf of our relatives who have gone missing or have been murdered, thank you for never giving up, for your persistence and perseverance. Your voices have been heard and we are here because of you and for you. As Native people, we have withstood much adversity, overcome many challenges, and have remained resilient. I believe that together, we can and will end the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans.” 

In addition to Bloomington, cold case offices were opened in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Aug. 4; Billings, Montana, on Aug. 6; Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Aug. 11; and Phoenix on Aug. 13, 2020. Another office is planned for Nashville, Tennessee, in the near future. 

The Operation Lady Justice Task Force’s purpose is to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system and address the staggering number of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives in tribal communities.

The cold case teams will be staffed with law enforcement personnel and appointed special agents from the BIA-OJS.

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