Trump signs ‘Operation Lady Justice’ to solve missing, murdered Native women


Two days before Thanksgiving, President Donald Trump sent a strong message to the Native American communities across the United States as he signed an executive order to focus on solving cases of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Native women. He was surrounded by tribal leaders from various states during the ceremony.

Operation Lady Justice will “engage with tribal communities on the scope of the issue; develop protocols to apply to new and unsolved cases; establish a multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional team to review cold cases; establish greater clarity of roles, authorities and jurisdictions involved in these cases.” 

“We will leverage every resource we have to bring safety to our tribal communities, and we will not waver in this mission,” Trump said. “We’re taking this very seriously. This has never been done before. And I’ve seen it, just by reading and watching the news — it’s a very serious problem. It’s a horrible problem.”

[Read the Presidential Proclamation here]

The executive order is similar to legislation that Sen. Lisa Murkowski and two Democrat senators, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Jon Tester of Montana, have offered. That bill is called the Not Invisible Act, which Murkowski described as designating official “to coordinate efforts across agencies and establishes a commission of local tribal and federal stakeholders to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice on how to combat this epidemic of disappearances, homicide, violent crime, and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.”

Trump did not mention the Not Invisible Act in his remarks about Operation Lady Justice, but his efforts gave Murkowski the opportunity to make a rare statement applauding Trump:

“From legislative efforts such as my bills Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act to securing significant funding through my role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ve been working hard to elevate the epidemic of missing, trafficked, and murdered Indigenous women and girls on a national level. Between this executive order, the initiatives coming out of the Department of Justice, and my long-standing efforts—turning the tide of this crisis has truly become an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach. I applaud the President for this action, building on Attorney General Barr’s recent announcement, which is a signal of the urgency and importance that has been placed on this issue. Alongside the notable efforts of the administration, I will continue to push enduring policy to bring prevention, awareness, and justice to the many women and girls that have fallen victim to this heartbreaking reality.”

Last Friday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a Department of Justice initiative to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous persons. The plan will place coordinators in multiple U.S. Attorney offices with the goal of developing protocols to improve the ability of law enforcement to address missing person cases, and also invests in training and tools to develop a more comprehensive and effective response process.

Alaska’s Office of the U.S. Attorney will receive funding for one of the coordinators, a person who will work with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies to develop common protocols and procedures for responding to reports of missing or murdered indigenous people. 

In addition, a specialized rapid deployment team is now being used in Alaska, in response to the Ashley Johnson-Barr abduction and murder in Kotzebue.

As a result of that case, the Anchorage FBI organized the first of its kind “state based” Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, by training members of state and local law enforcement in the specialized techniques used by the FBI nationally.

“These techniques directly apply to any missing person case and call upon the specialized skills described in the Attorney General’s initiative. Upon request by a tribal, state, or local law enforcement agency, the FBI will provide expert assistance based upon the circumstances of a missing indigenous persons case.  The FBI’s most advanced response capabilities will be brought to bear on these cases: such as CARD teams, Cellular Analysis Support Teams, Evidence Response Teams, Cyber Agents for timely analysis of digital evidence/social media, Victim Services personnel, and others assets as needed,” said U.S. District Attorney Bryan Schroder in a statement.

[Read more about the efforts of the U.S. District Attorney’s Office here]

“Attorney General Barr’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative will enhance public safety partnerships in rural Alaska, helping us provide justice for families mourning a murder victim or assistance to communities searching for a missing friend or neighbor,” Schroder said.

Last week, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee advanced the Not Invisible Act. It will be scheduled for the Senate floor and appears to have little controversy surrounding it. The Senate is in session Dec. 2 through 13, when it adjourns for the year.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney will visit Washington State on Dec. 16 to participate in a summit at the Yakama Nation reservation on missing and murdered indigenous women.

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