Trump establishes ‘Operation Lady Justice’ task force

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian.

The executive order for MMIW establishes ‘an interagency task force charged with developing an aggressive, government-wide strategy to address the crisis’

The silent crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women that has affected a countless number of Native families across the United States received the attention it deserves Tuesday from the Oval Office in the White House.

President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order creating a White House task force on missing and slain American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The task force will be overseen by Attorney General William Barr and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. It is tasked with developing protocols to apply to new and unsolved cases and creating a multi-jurisdictional team to review cold cases.

Trump on Tuesday called the scourge of violence facing Native American women and girls “sobering and heartbreaking.”

The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, including many who are victims of sexual violence. On some reservations, federal studies have shown women are killed at a rate over 10 times the national average.

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer was in attendance for the signing and commended President Trump for recognizing the need to keep Native women and children safe. 

“Our Native American people experience violence at a higher rate than any other nationality in the country. The lack of reporting and investigation of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples needs to be taken seriously,” Lizer said who gave a prayer before the signing. “The executive order gives hope to our tribal nations that justice is being sought and that there is a path for healing of our families, victims, and survivors.”

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(Photo: Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian, Public Domain)

Abigail Echo-Hawk, Chief Research Officer of Seattle Indian Health Board, said the executive order by the president is a step in the right direction and hopes Natives in urban areas also have a voice in the task force.

Echo-Hawk is also the co-author of the report, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls: A snapshot of data from 71 urban cities in the United States,” which was one of the first reports to collect data of and look deep into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“MMIWG is a non-partisan issue because it is simply about the safety of women. We support our tribal partners and believe this federal task force has the potential to have an impact on reservations, but I urge that urban Indians have a voice within it,” Echo-Hawk said in a statement. “Our MMIWG report showed that the crisis extends beyond reservations and into urban cities across the country, which is where more than 70 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native population reside.”

She continued: "This action is a step in the right direction, but we look forward to seeing additional steps that are inclusive of urban Indian people.”

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The task force, titled “Operation Lady Justice,” will be made up of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior; the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, Department of Justice; the Director of the Office of Justice Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior; the Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee; and the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans, Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to developing protocols and establishing a multi-jurisdictional team to review cases, the executive order also states the task force is to: conduct proper consultation with tribes, collect and share data among various law enforcement agencies, utilize existing criminal databases, develop and execute education and outreach campaigns for tribal communities most affected.

For clarity, these are selected highlights from the executive order intended to give greater scope to the goals of the task force.

Reaction on Twitter varied, from people who praised President Trump for the action to others who said he helps perpetuate the problem by allowing oil pipelines to be built through and near Native lands. 

The task force is set to run for two years, unless otherwise directed by the President. In his comments during the signing, President Trump said this is an action that should have been taken a long time ago and that his administration will use every possible resource to help make Native communities more safe.

“With Operation Lady Justice, we will bring new hope to Native American communities across the nation,” President Trump said. “We will deliver justice for the victims, closure for the families, and safety to those in harm’s way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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