Indianz.Com Video: Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives #MMIW #MMIP

'We want tribal consultation': Trump administration pushed to improve missing and murdered task force

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Trump administration is looking to incorporate more voices into its new missing and murdered task force following complaints about a lack of input from tribes, survivors and families.

Established by executive order last November, the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives consists solely of federal officials. Tribal leaders believe the structure needs to be changed in order to address a crisis that has affected their communities for far too long.

"Tribal leaders, we know what the problems are," Michelle Demmert, the Chief Justice for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, told members of the task force during its first-ever listening session in the nation's capital on Tuesday. "We know what the solutions are."

Monica Antone, a council member from the Gila River Indian Community, also stressed the need for more inclusion. She gave the task force concrete examples of the ways in which women in her tribe have utilized their own funds to find people who have gone missing.

"We need to come to the table with solutions," Antone said, citing a recent example in which Gila River women in Arizona were able to bring home a loved one who went missing in a neighboring state.

Cooperation was a big issue for Joe Garcia, head councilman from Ohkay Owingeh. Unless the task force reaches out to tribal and other governments, they won't be able to find ways to overcome jurisdictional hurdles that arise in missing and murdered cases, he said.

"When a person goes missing, usually they're not missing in our community, or in our jurisdiction," said Garcia, a past president of the National Congress of American Indians who brought up a case in which a young man from the New Mexico tribe recently passed on. "They are outside our jurisdiction."

After listening to the concerns raised during the one-hour session, which took place at hotel just a couple of blocks from the White House, one of the co-chairs of the task force said the addition of tribal leader and other voices was going to be discussed "immediately."

"We've heard you about a side working group, an advisory group, something like that," said Katharine Sullivan, who serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice.

"We've heard that loud and clear," Sullivan said of a discussion that she will be having with Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, the other co-chair.

The new group is also being responsive to concerns about engaging tribes in a formal government-to-government manner, as required by executive order and by the trust and treaty relationship. A schedule of listening sessions and consultations is still being finalized but it has the task force visiting all regions of Indian Country from now until July. Two telephone consultations are also being planned.

"They are not interchangeable," said Chief Justice Demmert, underscoring the difference between a listening session and a true consultation.

"We want tribal consultation," Demmert asserted.

At the opening of the session, which coincided with NCAI's winter meeting in D.C., Sweeney said obtaining input from tribal and Native communities is essential for the task force's success.

"We're coming here to listen," said Sweeney, who is the first Alaska Native to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and only the second woman in that role. "We're coming here to learn and to work with Indian Country."

"It takes a robust engagement with Indian Country, with Alaska Native villages, with tribes and tribal leadership," Sweeney added. "Tribal consultation, and these types of listening sessions, will inform our overall recommendations."

In addition to Sullivan and Sweeney, three other members of the task force attended the session, though none offered remarks. They were: Jeannie Hovland, a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs and as the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services; Charles Addington, who hails from the Cherokee Nation and heads up law enforcement at the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and Laura Rogers, who is the temporary director of the Office on Violence Against Women at DOJ.

The final two officials serving on the group are R. Trent Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation who serves as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma and Terry Wade, who was recently named as the assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Neither was able to attend the session.

The task force is housed at DOJ and is funded by DOJ, as dictated by the executive order. Marcia Good, a longtime employee who has worked at the Office of Tribal Justice and has helped prosecute cases in Indian Country, is serving as executive director. She was present at the session on Wednesday.

After the task force completes its listening sessions and tribal consultations over the next six months, the members plan to issue an interim report in late November, meaning after the 2020 presidential election. A final report is due in November 2021, according to the executive order.

The Trump administration has not definitely said how much money DOJ is spending on the task force, or from what program area the funds are being drawn. The agency has not yet responded to a request for comment about the resources.

Separately, DOJ has said it will spend $1.5 million to hire 11 missing and murdered "coordinators" in 11 states. One of them, in Montana, is already on board, with additional ones going to Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan, Utah, Nevada, Minnesota, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington, all states with significant Indian and Native populations.

Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico and Washington are among the states which have taken action at their level to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans, especially women and girls. Nationally, however, legislation to do the same has stalled despite bipartisan support in Congress.

The Trump administration has not committed public support to any of the bills, including those championed by Republicans. The list includes Savanna's Act [S.227 | H.R.2733], a bill named in memory of Savanna Marie Greywind, a Spirit Lake Nation woman who went missing and was murdered in North Dakota in 2017.

"We're ready to go with the bill in the Senate," Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said at NCAI's meeting on Wednesday. S.227 has already been approved by the committee and has been placed on the U.S. Senate calendar, awaiting passage.

A prior version of Savanna's Act nearly became law during the last session of Congress, Hoeven noted. The bill passed the Senate, only for for it to be scuttled at the last minute in the U.S. House of Representatives by a male Republican who is no longer in office. The chamber was in the hands of the GOP at the time.

Democrats now control the House and have included missing and murdered provisions in H.R.1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Republican leaders in the Senate are refusing to take it up, citing objections to numerous parts of the bill, including ones that address tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. The 2013 version of the Violence Against Women Act recognized inherent tribal authority for the first time.

"Those are sitting there on Mitch McConnell's desk because he said he's the 'Grim Reaper' there in the graveyard," Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), the Speaker of the House, said at NCAI on Wednesday, referring to the the Republican majority leader of the Senate.

"Violence Against Women Act, why would they not pass that?" Pelosi said.

H.R.2438, the Not Invisible Act, also addresses missing and murdered Native Americans. It's the first bill to be introduced by the four tribal citizens who serve in Pelosi's chamber.

"Solving the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women is going to take a sustained, comprehensive effort between tribal, state, and federal governments," Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who is one of the first two Native women to serve in Congress, said at the State of Indian Nations on Monday, which kicked off NCAI's winter session.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
'Do your job': Tribes slam Trump administration on sovereignty and homelands (February 12, 2020)
Trump administration faulted for efforts to address 'epidemic' of missing and murdered in Indian Country (February 10, 2020)
State of Indian Nations kicks off busy week for tribal leaders (February 10, 2020)
Indian Country awaits latest budget proposal from Trump administration (February 10, 2020)
VIDEO: White House Summit on Human Trafficking #MMIW #MMIP (February 1, 2020)
Native Sun News Today: Native youth runners honor Selena Not Afraid (January 31, 2020)
Presidential task force tackles 'epidemic' of missing and murdered in Indian Country (January 29, 2020)
AUDIO: Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (January 29, 2020)
Rep. Markwayne Mullin: Taking a stand against human trafficking (January 27, 2020)
Body of missing teen from Crow Tribe found in Montana (January 20, 2020)
'We'll fight the good fight': Lawmakers tackle Indigenous issues at state capitol (January 15, 2020)
'When they do turn for help, nobody believes them': Native women hold vigil in honor of Ashlea Aldrich (January 14, 2020)
Forum for Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives set for Arizona (January 10, 2020)
'This is one of the most heartbreaking issues': Young Native woman's death tied to domestic violence (January 10, 2020)
Death of woman on Omaha Reservation under investigation (January 8, 2020)
‘We need each other to heal:’ Native Americans help Native Americans overcome domestic violence (December 26, 2019)
Supporting state and federal efforts to address MMIW (December 11, 2019)
Trump creates panel on issue of missing, murdered indigenous women (December 2, 2019)
Tribal leaders share statements about White House signing ceremony (November 27, 2019)
Operation Lady Justice features artwork by D.G. Smalling of Choctaw Nation (November 26, 2019)
President Trump promises action on missing and murdered in Indian Country (November 26, 2019)
'Political football': Protections for Native women caught up in partisan stalemate (November 21, 2019)
RECAP: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs #MMIW meeting and Native veterans hearing (November 21, 2019)
Senate committee takes up #MMIW bills amid doubts about protections for Native women (November 19, 2019)
Rep. Tom Cole: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month (November 4, 2019)
Rep. Tom Cole: Protecting Native women and children (October 31, 2019)
'We’re going to bring them home': Rally for the missing and the murdered (October 15, 2019)
YES! Magazine: Pipelines can endanger the lives of Native women (October 7, 2019)
'Does the White House support VAWA?': Trump officials won't say (September 24, 2019)
RECAP: Sovereignty and Native Women's Safety at US Capitol (September 17, 2019)
House panel questions officials on efforts to help Native women (September 13, 2019)
House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples convenes hearing on #MMIW crisis (September 11, 2019)
Appeals court decision affirms tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians (August 29, 2019)
RECAP: Trump administration unprepared for hearing on #MMIW and tribal jurisdiction bills (June 19, 2019)
Witness list for Senate hearing on Indian Country safety legislation (June 18, 2019)
Key lawmakers renew efforts to protect Native women from violence (June 13, 2019)
Protections for Native women in limbo amid party divisions in Congress (May 22, 2019)
Bill John Baker: The Not Invisible Act is vital to the safety of Native women (May 8, 2019)
AUDIO/VIDEO: Democrats call for action to address #MMIW crisis (May 7, 2019)
Rep. Markwayne Mullin: Bipartisan bill protects Native women and girls (May 7, 2019)
YES! Magazine: Indigenous communities take action for missing and murdered (April 22, 2019)
Leader of Jicarilla Apache Nation stepped down after remarks about 'loose women' (April 12, 2019)
Navajo Nation in mourning after body of 4-year-old missing girl is found (April 4, 2019)
House adds more Indian Country provisions to Violence Against Women Act (April 3, 2019)
'Not one more': Native woman laid to rest after going missing in urban area (April 1, 2019)
House moves closer to passage of Violence Against Women Act (April 1, 2019)
'What she say, it be law': Tribes protected their women before being stripped of sovereignty (March 25, 2019)
National Museum of the American Indian hosts 'Safety for Our Sisters' symposium (March 21, 2019)
'An abomination': Republicans try to strip tribal jurisdiction from Violence Against Women Act (March 18, 2019)
Advocates call for funding, data to find missing, murdered Native women (March 18, 2019)
Native women leaders lined up for hearing on missing and murdered sisters (March 12, 2019)
'It could be me': Native American teen teaches self-defense to keep indigenous kids safe (March 11, 2019)
House subcommittee schedules hearing on missing and murdered indigenous women (March 8, 2019)
Native Sun News Today: Pipeline opponents and advocates warn of dangers of man camps (March 8, 2019)
Cronkite News: Attention finally being paid to missing and murdered sisters (March 6, 2019)
MSU News: Powwow dedicated to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (March 4, 2019)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation celebrates the women who make us strong (March 4, 2019)
'Shameful': Congress fails to take action on missing and murdered Indigenous women (January 10, 2019)
Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo (December 7, 2018)
High Country News: It's business as usual for crime on tribal lands (November 29, 2018)
Trump administration argues against tribal sovereignty in Supreme Court case (November 27, 2018)
Another tribe asserts authority over non-Indians as VAWA remains in limbo (November 2, 2018)

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines