DOI Opens Cold Case Office For Murdered Native Americans

By Joyce Hanson | July 28, 2020, 8:49 PM EDT

The first of seven offices focused on solving cold cases involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives recently opened in Minnesota during a visit by Ivanka Trump to promote a newly established presidential task force that targets the crisis.

President Donald Trump's daughter came to Bloomington, Minnesota, on July 27, along with U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney for the office opening in a state that has seen a large number of unresolved American Indian and Alaska Native missing person cases. There are more than 1,400 unresolved missing Native person cases in the United States, many involving women and girls, 136 of them are in Minnesota, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center.

"We are furthering President Trump's commitment to forgotten men and women across our country and the administration's efforts to ensure that all Americans can live with dignity and the promise of a brighter future," Ms. Trump said in a statement.

In August, six cold case offices are scheduled to open in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Anchorage, Alaska; Billings, Montana; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix, Arizona; and Rapid City, South Dakota.

The president signed his executive order on Nov. 26, establishing the task force funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to address "legitimate concerns" about "missing and murdered indigenous women and girls."

Trump's Executive Order 13898 launches a new group under the name of Operation Lady Justice to tackle what has become a crisis of missing and murdered people in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. The order points to an estimated 5,000 Native American women and girls who went missing in 2019, as well as a study showing that women in certain tribes are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the average American.

The order instructs the U.S. Department of Justice to provide an unspecified amount of money and administrative support "as may be necessary" so the task force can function. The U.S. attorney general and the secretary of the interior serve as co-chairs and must designate a DOJ official to serve as the task force's executive director and oversee day-to-day functions, according to the order.

On Jan. 29, the task force met for the first time to discuss how it planned to tackle the crisis in 2020, naming an Office of Tribal Justice attorney as its executive director.

Maria Good, senior counsel to the director of the OTJ since 2013 and formerly an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Montana, was named to serve as the task force's director during the meeting attended by officials from the Interior, Justice and Health and Human Services departments.

Bernhardt said in a statement Monday that the president created the task force to support tribal communities, "reduce the staggering number of violent crimes" committed against American Indians and Alaska Natives and close out the hundreds of cold cases now on the books.

The cold case offices will be staffed with law enforcement personnel and newly appointed special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Justice Services, as well as staffers from other Operation Lady Justice Task Force partners such as tribal law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Offices of the U.S. Attorneys, according to the Department of the Interior.

The task force collects and manages data across jurisdictions, establishes protocols for new and unsolved cases, and provides clarity on roles, authorities and jurisdiction, the DOI said.

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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