Flagstaff, Ariz. • A presidential task force charged with coming up with ways to address missing and slain Native Americans resumed tribal listening sessions Wednesday, encountering some technological glitches in the virtual version.
The task force held a handful of sessions in person with tribes and tribal organizations before the coronavirus hit. It's now turning to teleconferences and webinars to update tribes on its work and get input.
Three other sessions are scheduled through June 3.
The task force will develop protocols to apply to new and unsolved cases in Indian Country and create a multi-jurisdictional team to review cold cases. The task force made up of seven federal officials says it's on track to submit a progress report to the White House in November. A final report is due in November 2021.
“As all of these pieces of the puzzle come together, including that data collection, I think we're really going to make an impact, make a difference,” said Katie Sullivan, who represents the Office of the Attorney General on the task force.
The U.S. Justice Department said 85 people, aside from those in the federal government, connected to Wednesday's session. Few spoke up to provide input, including only one tribal leader.
Their recommendations ranged from ensuring tribes have access to funding through self-governance contracts, not grants, and expanding the criminal jurisdiction for tribes on their own land. They also emphasized the need to dig deep into data and to ensure law enforcement is coordinating when responding to reports of missing people.
The Justice Department said it will work to improve the quality and clarity of the virtual sessions. Sullivan said the task force would take cues from tribes about when to resume in-person sessions.
Various states have formed similar groups to look at what has become an epidemic in Indian Country.
The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, including many who are victims of sexual violence. On some reservations, federal studies have shown women are killed at a rate over 10 times the national average.
An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how cases of missing and murdered Native American women happen nationwide because many cases go unreported, others aren’t well documented and no government database specifically tracks them.