President Donald Trump launched a task force Wednesday to tackle what he has called a “sobering and heartbreaking” epidemic affecting Native Americans.
“Operation Lady Justice” had its first meeting last week in response to high rates of murdered and missing American Indians and Alaska Natives, the Trump administration announced in a statement, according to ABC News. Native Americans, especially women and girls, are disproportionately the victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.
“President Trump is committed to addressing systemic challenges in Indian Country, and this task force will develop and implement an aggressive, government-wide strategy to combat the crisis of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said of the task force.
Trump’s new task force
Bernhardt and Attorney General Bill Barr are spearheading the task force, which joins the efforts of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs. According to ABC, the task force will review cold cases and consult with tribal communities to come up with more effective law enforcement policies and methods.
The Trump administration has acknowledged that a dearth of information from tribal communities is a major problem, something they hope to address by meeting with tribal leaders in a series of consultations around the country to understand the crisis. The force will also lead a public awareness campaign, form a multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional team involving tribal law enforcement to review cold cases, and develop protocols for addressing both new and cold cases, according to ABC.
“The disappearance and death of American Indian and Alaska Native people, particularly women and girls, is an especially tragic chapter in a long story of marginalization and trauma suffered by native people,” Barr said of the initiative.
He went on: “We are committed to addressing this challenge, to reducing the violence and protecting the vulnerable from exploitation and abuse. The task force is eager to get to work to address the issues that underlie this terrible problem, and work with our tribal partners to find solutions, raise awareness, and bring answers and justice to the grieving.”
According to the DOJ, 84% of Native American women have experienced sexual, physical, or psychological violence. A report from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that 506 Native American women and girls were killed in 2016.
A big task ahead
The new task force, which was formed by executive order in November, will be led by Marcia Good of the Justice Department. It will present a report on its findings in November 2020 and a final report in November 2021.
Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and a member of the task force, called it a “giant step forward” that will go beyond simply raising awareness of the problem, according to The Washington Times.
However, Trump administration officials didn’t hide the large scope of the task before them.
“I have to say we have a large and important charge ahead of us,” Katie Sullivan, principal deputy assistant attorney general and a member of the task force, told the Times. “We are coming together to listen, learn and recommend solutions.”
Trump takes on trafficking
Trump also signed an executive order Friday to designate a White House position specifically for combating human trafficking, The Hill noted. At a summit to mark the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Trump hailed his administration’s efforts to combat human and sex trafficking around the world and acknowledged the task force to combat crime against indigenous peoples as “an incredible thing that’s been happening.”
“My administration is 100% committed to eradicating human trafficking from the Earth,” Trump said Friday, according to a transcript provided by the White House. “We will not rest until we’ve stopped every last human trafficker and liberated every last survivor.”