WASHINGTON — The Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, called Operation Lady Justice, released on Thursday its one-year report that described the activities and accomplishments during the past year.
The task force was established through a presidential executive order on November 26, 2019 by President Donald Trump.
The Department of the Interior, Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversee the task force, which has a purpose to address the incidence of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives that is of epidemic proportion in Indian Country.
The Executive Order mandated that Operation Lady Justice to submit a status report in November 2020. The report released on Thursday is dated November 25, 2020. A final report will be due to President Joe Biden is due during November 2021.
The report summarizes the activities and accomplishments during a year that was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit Indian Country particularly hard.
In its first year, the task force held more than 15 in-person and remote meetings with tribes, individuals and stakeholder groups, and established and convened 10 working groups to address specific mandates of the executive order, including developing protocols, solving cold cases and expanding outreach and awareness. Readouts of the sessions can be found on the Operation Lady Justice website.
The task force had originally planned to hold in-person listening sessions at various regions throughout Indian Country to hear from victims, families and tribal communities impacted by missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
“It has been a true honor to represent the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the Operation Lady Justice Task Force and serve Native American communities and populations,” said Commissioner Jeannie Hovland of the Administration for Native Americans. “Tribal leaders and community advocates have been on the forefront of this issue for years. At their request, I have elevated the critical role prevention must play in reducing the number of Native Americans who tragically go missing or are murdered. With their partnership and guidance, HHS is taking unprecedented action on this issue using a public health approach.”
During the first part of 2020, the task force was able to host in-person listening sessions at various venues, such as the National Congress of American Indians Executive Council at its winter session in Washington, D.C. and HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) grantees meeting, also in Washington, D.C., among others.
Once it was determined travel was not safe due to the pandemic, the task force scheduled virtual tribal consultations in Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regions.
During the first year of operation, the task force, along with the Attorney General’s MMIP Initiative have worked together to develop model guides that can be utilized to meet each Tribal community’s needs, resources and culture. The guides are tailored to cover multiple topics, such as how to develop community, law enforcement and victim services guidelines for missing person cases, to name a few.
Additionally, the task force, through Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, established seven multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional cold case teams to review cold cases involving American Indians and Alaska staffed by newly-appointed criminal investigators Natives. “from the BIA, Office of Justice Services, each cold case team may include other partners from Tribal law enforcement and the Department of Justice.
The report presented three recommendations from the task force:
Recommendation 1: Draft and propose legislation to authorize both Department of Justice databases in the area of missing person cases to share information with each other.
Recommendation 2: Provide funding for programs to support Tribes in developing and providing continued support to their Missing and Murdered Native Americans (MMNA) teams or task forces.
Recommendation 3: Consider adding additional task force members. There are other executive agencies and offices beyond those specifically named in the EO which have a role in addressing the challenges surrounding missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The members of the task force are:
- Katharine Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, designee for the Attorney General;
- Jean Hovland, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs and Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans, Department of Health and Human Services;
- Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, designee for the Secretary of the Interior;
- Terry Wade, Executive Assistant Director, Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation;
- Laura Rogers, Acting Director, Office on Violence Against Women;
- Charles Addington, Deputy Bureau Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services; and
- Trent Shores, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma and Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.
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