Trump establishes task force to help Native American Community

On Nov. 26, 2019, President Trump signed an executive order establishing a task force, named Operation Lady Justice, to address and investigate the increasing number of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. The president also mentioned just after signing the order that the issue was something his administration has been focusing on in recent months.

   Joined by Attorney General William Barr, several administration officials, and a number of Native American tribal leaders, President Trump remarked to reporters in the room that executive action on the issue “should have been done a long time ago.” One of the tribal leaders present at the signing of the executive order, Shannon Holsey, also said that the task force was an extremely important piece of action. “While there is so much that needs to be done to stop the violence perpetrated on native and women girls, I appreciate the Administration for taking an important first step in establishing this task force,” said Holsey. 

   The order itself came after Barr visited with tribal leaders and officials on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Officially called the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative, it pledges to invest $1.5 million to hire specialized attorneys who will be tasked with outlining the protocols for a more coordinated response to violence against native people. The initiative also allows and encourages tribal as well as local law enforcement to seek help from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. “American Indian and Alaska Native people suffer from unacceptable and disproportionately high levels of violence, which can have lasting impacts on families and communities,” said Barr. “Too many of these families have experienced the loss of loved ones who went missing or were murdered.”

   According to the National Crime Information Center, Native American women experience the highest rates of murder in the entire country. In 2016 alone, 5,600 Native women and girls were reported missing, but only 116 of these were ever reported to the Department of Justice. Accordingly, a study from 2008 found that women in some tribal communities are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. However, the violence Native and Alaskan women face is not limited to reservations, as many would believe. The Urban Indian Health Institute released a report last November citing that there have been over 500 cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls in 71 cities across the U.S. since 2010. 

   Several members of Congress have also addressed the issue in the past with bipartisan legislation. Savanna’s Act aims to increase the coordination between federal and tribal agencies and to improve tribal access to law enforcement databases. The proposed legislation would also require the Department of Justice to draw up a standardized set of guidelines that would streamline the process for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native American women. 

   While Operation Lady Justice is the president’s latest step in addressing the unnecessary hardships that face the Native communities, it was not his first. On May 3, President Trump became the first president to officially recognize the issue of missing and murdered Native people by issuing a “Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day” proclamation.