Minnesota tribal leaders stood next to President Donald Trump as he signed an executive order Tuesday, Nov. 26, creating a national task force to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
"It’s a tremendous problem," the president said. "It’s been going on for a long time — many, many decades, beyond that. And we’re going to address it."
Tribal leaders in attendance for the signing were Fond du Lac Band Chairman Kevin DuPuis and councilmember Roger Smith as well as Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin.
With Attorney General William Barr and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt taking the lead, the task force, titled Operation Lady Justice, will develop a strategy to end the "terrible situation," Trump said. The Justice Department will also issue grants to improve safety in Indigenous communities.
In a separate announcement last week, Barr unveiled a plan to help address the crisis, in which the Justice Department will funnel $1.5 million to hire coordinators to improve the law enforcement response to MMIW cases and conduct an analysis of its missing-persons database. In 2016 alone, there were 5,712 reported cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the U.S. That figure is low, though, because of inadequate data collection, according to the Global Indigenous Council.
Last week, the U.S. Senate advanced Savanna's Act, a bipartisan bill that seeks to address gaps in data collection and law enforcement related to the crisis, to the floor for consideration. The bill is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a Fargo Native American woman who was murdered in 2017.
With Trump's order, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he hopes Congress will advance legislation such as Savanna's Act and the Violence Against Women Act.
“Native Americans face some of the highest rates of violence in our country, an issue the federal government has not historically done enough to help correct," he said in a statement.
Also serving on the task force will be the FBI director, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, the director of the Office on Violence Against Women and the director of justice services in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, among others.
"We will leverage every resource we have to bring safety to our tribal communities, and we will not waver in this mission," Trump said.
News Tribune reporter Adelle Whitefoot contributed to this report.