Indianz.Com on YouTube: President Trump promises action on missing and murdered in Indian Country

Operation Lady Justice features artwork by D.G. Smalling of Choctaw Nation

Operation Lady Justice, a government-wide initiative aimed at addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans, is named after artwork created by Derek Grant "D.G." Smalling, an artist from the Choctaw Nation.

Smalling created “Lady Justice” during a National Native American Heritage Month event held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., in November 2018. His year-old work gained new prominence as it was displayed at the White House on Tuesday for the signing of an executive order establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“She carries a shield of inter-locking arms as a symbolism of a battle standard to protect our people,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, the Trump administration official who oversees the BIA, wrote in a post on social media. “Under her shield we can reclaim our Native communities.”

In another post, Sweeney shared a photo of “Lady Justice” being carried into the White House by Charles Addington, the head of law enforcement at the BIA, and by Tyler Fish, a BIA employee who has been detailed to the White House to serve as a liaison between tribes and the Trump administration. Smalling was grateful for the recognition.

“An absolute honor to be affiliated with this most excellent multi-agency law enforcement initiative for Indian Country, my Choctaw Nation, and my family,” Smalling wrote in a post on social media. His tribe also highlighted his contribution to the new initiative.

"Choctaw Nation is grateful for this Executive order establishing the Task Force," the tribe said in a social media post on Tuesday.

During the signing ceremony in the Oval Office, "Lady Justice" could be partially seen as Trump and tribal leaders discussed the importance of finding missing Native Americans and solving the homicides of their loved ones. Though it was mostly obscured in the video released by the Trump administration, an official photo taken by Joyce N. Boghosian of the White House more clearly shows the artwork.

The same photo also shows that Trump still has a portrait of Andrew Jackson -- America's seventh president who is scorned by many in Indian Country for his role in contributing to the genocide of tribes like the Choctaw Nation -- in his office. It's been there since January 2017.

During his tenure in the 1830s, Jackson forced the Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Cherokee Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation out of their homelands in the southeast U.S. to present-day Oklahoma. Though the tribes today are thriving, the forced removal interrupted their ability to exercise jurisdiction over their territories, including laws that protected women, according to experts like Sarah Deer, an Indian law and policy expert who is Muscogee, and Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Cherokee attorney.

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer, center left, leads President Donald Trump in a prayer at the White House in Washington, D.C, on November 26, 2019. Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian / White House

During his remarks, Trump cited a government study which showed that Native women in some counties are 10 times more likely to be murdered than their counterparts of other races and ethnicities. A more recent report showed that Native women suffer from the second-highest homicide rate in the U.S.

What Trump left out was that most of the perpetrators are non-Native, as confirmed by repeated government studies. A fact sheet released by the White House also omitted such data.

To reclaim justice, Native women leaders are calling on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in order for tribes to exercise jurisdiction over all those who commit crimes, regardless of race. Existing law only recognize tribal authority in limited situations -- homicide, kidnapping and trafficking are not covered.

The Trump administration has not committed to supporting an expansion of VAWA, which expired earlier this year. The 2013 version of the law recognizes the "inherent" authority of tribes to arrest, prosecute and sentence non-Indians who abuse their partners, but only in certain circumstances.

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