Trump administration forms presidential task force for protecting Native children in IHS

Presidential Task Force created in response to a predatory pediatrician that had assaulted Native American children for years while employed at Indian Health Service

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.

See related: PBS Frontline, Wall Street Journal broadcast 'Predator on the Reservation'

PBS Frontline - Dr. Stanley Weber
Reporters from the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Weaver and Dan Frosch were reporting on the Indian Health Service. During their investigations, they uncovered the story of Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber, a sexual predator working in the IHS health system. (Courtesy photo.)

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.”

Trent Shores
In 2018, R. Trent Shores, Choctaw, talked about new initiatives to create greater Tribal Access to federal crime database info. Now he has been appointed Co-Chair to a Presidential Task Force to help Native children in the Indian Health Service. (Courtesy DOJ)

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.

See Related: President Obama Signs Bill For Native Children Commission

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

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

Comments (2)
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Makoyi
Makoyi

While I applaud Mr. Trump for his wanting to protect our kids, I also thnk the speaks with two mouths. Recently he started saying how he wants to cut medicade which is the program from which most of our kids living on the rez get their healthcare. And by cutting medicade we will also see a reduction in days and hours of operations the health clinics on the rez will available (if not totally forced to close). Mr. Trump also has stood by and done nothing as several states, including N. and S. Dakota, Montana and OK. have began removing Native American names from the voting rolls if they have a rural route, as most of us living on the rez have, and not a street name and number. This man has encourgaged his lackeys at the Department of the Interior to strip away lands that many tribes or nations have spiritual ties to (Big Ears and Grand Canyon) so that big oil companies can start drilling. And lets not forget that he gave full protection for the pipeline that ran under the main water source for our Lakota brothers and sisters. I would rate this President as even worse than Presidents Jackson and Grant. We need to watch with both eyes open to this new group and what may really be there agenda. Like re-openning the United States Indian Industrial School in Penn.