President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday directing federal agencies, including the departments of Justice, Interior and Homeland Security, to create a strategy addressing what the President called a “crisis of violence” against Native Americans.
“Today, I’m directing federal officials to work with tribal nations on a strategy to improve public safety and advanced justice,” Biden said at the White House’s first-ever Tribal Leaders Summit.
The President continued: “This builds on the work we did together on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, when we granted authority to tribes to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit violence on tribal lands.”
“We’re going to reauthorize that again, we’re going to expand the jurisdiction to include other offenses like sex trafficking, sexual assault and child abuse,” Biden said.
First lady Jill Biden, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland – the country’s first Native American Cabinet Secretary – Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas stood next to Biden as he signed the order.
The order “tasks DOJ, Interior and Homeland Security to address and create a strategy in 240 days for specific law enforcement issues and to provide tribal nations with support in implementing tribally centered responses as well,” to combat violence against Native communities, an administration official said Sunday. The Department of Health and Human Services will also be charged with developing plans for violence prevention and victim support.
In April, Haaland announced a unit within her department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs aimed at tackling the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans, calling it “a crisis that has been underfunded for decades.” Thousands of Indigenous women and girls have been reported killed or missing for years, while families and activists say their cases are often disregarded by law enforcement, which has forced them to bring the spotlight on the issue through social media campaigns, marches and protests.
About 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons have been recorded across the United States by the National Crime Information Center, and 2,700 homicide cases have been reported to the federal government’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
The Justice Department has reported that on some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
“A lot of these cases arise in Indian country or involve people who live in Indian country, but they might originate outside of tribal lands, and the patchwork of land holdings and jurisdictions across the country makes it paramount that federal, tribal and local law enforcement agencies coordinate our efforts together,” another official told reporters on a call Sunday.
Monday’s executive order will also create a new position at the Department of Justice tasked with outreach and liaising with victims’ families, and sets a 240-day deadline “to address and create a strategy” combating the crisis.
As President, Biden has increased outreach to America’s Indigenous communities, becoming the first President to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day last month and restoring protections to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
Biden on Monday announced his administration would take steps to increase protections for the Greater Chaco Landscape in New Mexico. An official described the region to reporters on Sunday as “a region of great cultural, spiritual, and historical significance to many Pueblos and Indian Tribes and containing thousands of artifacts that date back more than one thousand years.” The Greater Chaco Landscape was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The President also announced he was directing nearly 20 federal agencies to protect Tribal Treaty Rights. Under the memorandum, representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Commerce, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, State, and the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Personnel Management, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Council Environmental Quality are ordered to issue reports over the next 180 days on efforts to strengthen treaty protections.
As part of that agreement, the administration announced a partnership with Oklahoma State University to compile, digitize, and index Tribal treaties, with a beta version of the database to be unveiled Monday.
This story has been updated with additional details.