On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced the formation of the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System.
A senior administration official hosted a White House conference call, and released statements to the media which outlined that President Trump has “charged the task force with investigating the institutional and systemic breakdown that failed to prevent a predatory pediatrician from sexually assaulting children while acting in his capacity as a doctor in the Indian Health Service.”
The pediatrician, Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber was an IHS doctor sentenced to prison for sexual assault of Native boys. Weber left the IHS in 2016, and he is now serving time.
According to a White House release, the task force will examine any systemic problems that failed to prevent the doctor’s actions or failure of the Indian Health Service to protect Native American children.
The task force will also develop recommended policies protocols and best practices to protect Native children and prevent such things from happening again.
Top appointees by President Trump to lead the task force are Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president for domestic policy, and United States Attorney Trent Shores, who will both serve as co-chair.
“I appreciate the confidence placed in me by President Trump to help lead this task force,” said Shores in a release from the Department of Justice. “We have the opportunity to do good work for a righteous cause. Protecting Native American children who enter the Indian Health Service system is a common sense mission. It’s also one which this task force will approach with a great sense of purpose and urgency. I’m thankful for President Trump’s focus on this issue and commitment to finding solutions to prevent these atrocities from happening again. This is about doing the right thing.”
According to the White House release, the task force’s focus is separate and distinguishable from other investigations into the Indian health system. Specifically, the work will not interfere with either the criminal investigation of a pediatrician or a review underway at the Department of Health and Human Services, including an investigation by the department’s Inspector General. The Indian Health Service also has an outside, independent contractor looking at the issue.
In addition, a senior administration official told Indian Country Today that the task force was not related to the Commission on Native Children created by former Senator Heitkamp, D-North Dakota. “The task force is unrelated to the commission, although certainly shares in the concern for the safety of Native American children. The task force effort is focused on developing recommended policies, protocols, and best practices to protect Native American children in the IHS system and prevent such abuse from ever happening again,” the senior administration official told Indian Country Today.
The official also said on the conference call that the bulk of the resources will be paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services. ”There could be incidentals or supplemental resources from people's home agencies and departments. We don't envision this being a terribly expensive endeavor.”
Leaders in Indian Country are already voicing support for the task force and appointment of Shores, including Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby.
“Trent Shores, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, has a history of working to protect Indian children in Oklahoma and I have confidence in his ability to make safety recommendations as part of this new designated task force,” Baker said in a release. Anoatubby stated: “It is heartbreaking and unconscionable that an IHS pediatrician was allowed to prey upon Indian children. We commend and support the Administration and the Department of Justice for initiating this important review of IHS practices so that all proper measures are taken to ensure the protection and safety of all children.”
The DOJ also said the task force will be comprised of subject-matter experts from several United States government agencies.
The members of the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System are as follows:
Joseph Grogan, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, Co-Chair
United States Attorney Trent Shores, Co-Chair
Bo Leach, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services
Stephanie Knapp, MSW, LCSW, Child/Adolescent Forensic Interviewer, Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office for Victims Assistance, Child Victim Services Unit
Shannon Bears Cozzoni, Tribal Liaison, and Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma
Caitlin A. Hall, MD, FAAP, Clinical Director/Pediatrician, Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Health Center, Indian Health Service
Farnoosh Faezi-Marian, Program Examiner, Office of Management and Budget
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling