U.S. Election’s Impact on Missing Murdered Indigenous Human Rights Crisis

"Missing & murdered Indigenous women's march" by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By | Rachel Brooks

October 24, 2020

The politics within the United States will impact how the human rights crisis of America’s Indigenous people is address in the following years.

The compounded risks of the unprecedented number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People in the United States of America is an American security crisis. The Native American community estimates over 10,000 Native Americans are currently unaccounted for in the United States. A mass number of these missing Indigenous Americans are women and young girls.

The high statistical rates of violence against Indigenous people in North America also includes Indigenous Canadians. See detailed information regarding this issue from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigneous Women and Girls. 

One that transpires in the dark. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Task Force, composed in November 2019, has gone primarily overlooked in the national press, despite the statements by the press of seeking greater inclusion for People of Color, including Indigenous Americans. 

On December 2, 2019, the Federal Register filed an archival record of the Executive Order 13898 for “Establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.” The executive order addresses the allocation of funds for the task force, which was set to be co-chaired by the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior. 

The Task Force initiative was signed by President Donald Trump. As the United States is poised for the Presidential Election of 2020, questions remain as to how the winning administration will proceed with future initiatives to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous People rates. 

Operation Lady Justice gives insights 

Operation Lady Justice is the name given to the Task Force President Trump initiated to conduct cooperative investigations into the rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s cases. These cases have an overwhelming tendency to involve women and girls, hence the name. The task force was scheduled to continue its operations for a period of two years. 

Since its inception, Operation Lady Justice has conducted listening sessions with key Native American representatives as well as with the NCAI, BIA, the DOI’s Tribal Advisory Committee, and the HHS ACF’s Tribal Advisory Committee. 

Final virtual sessions with the BIA concluded on September 17. The verbatim transcript is available here. 

The Indigenous community of the United States has given direct insights into the risks presented by the unprecedented rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People in the United States. The high rates of missing Indigenous people are a litmus indicator of the security hazards of human trafficking and violent crimes against minorities within the western world. 

How will the winning administration handle MMIP rates in the future?

The Presidential Election 2020 results will be determined on November 3, but the questions regarding Native American policy past that point are still present. Should Trump win his reelection campaign, he must establish his position on further pursuing MMIP Task Force initiatives in his second term. 

Comparing the current seated president with the opposition candidate

President Trump has, citing the Operation Lady Justice transcripts, been proactive for the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. He created Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day in May 2019, and was the first President to do so. Mr. Trump likewise has addressed “ending the violence that disproportionality affects American Indians and Alaska Natives” as “imperative.  

Should Joe Biden win the election, he will have to establish his administration’s policies regarding the security stakes and human rights crisis of unprecedented violence toward Native Americans.

Biden’s policies, as stated by his campaign, include reinstating many of the Obama Administration’s acts concerning Native Americans. Biden has likewise laid out his comprehensive plan to mitigate funding and “end violence against women.” Biden has stated that he will increase funding to the efforts of the missing person research and that he will instruct his administration’s Department of Justice to identify communication breakdowns between the U.S. government and Tribal governments focusing on increasing tribally-centered responses. 

It was not, however, addressed publicly how Joe Biden’s administration would mitigate the increased investigation of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People who go missing from urban areas. Joe Biden did mention his prospects for dealing with violent crimes against women, as he states from his official Twitter.

Yet, concerning Missing and Murdered Indigenous People cases the focus was on federally recognized tribal lands, reservations, and reservation governments, citing the lanugae of the Biden campaign site. Biden specifically addresses federal communication in the Indian Country. His campaign does not, however, address the fact that a majority of Indigenous Americans reside in urban areas, with large Native American communities present in Seattle, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois, for example. 

Urban Areas with a large population of Native Americans are under the unique risks of human trafficking. The Native American community has stated, for example, that they are watching Seattle, Washington as it has reformed its police structure to include a “street czar” who was a formally convicted pimp in the region. 

Human trafficking crimes against Indigenous people in the region of Seattle are driven by complex social factors, including racism toward Indigenous Americans. These require a direct address of the issue in the urban areas. It is unclear, based on the campaign message of Joe Biden, what his stance would be on the direct progress of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s case handling in areas where Indigenous are not represented by a tribal authority or reservation government.

The Operation Lady Justice Task Force has addressed this to an extent, citing the BIA. In August 2020, the Task Force opened a cold case office out of Billings, Montana to begin an in-depth investigation unit. The office follows the opening of similar locations in Bloomington, Montana, and Rapid City, South Dakota. 

While the Trump campaign has made overtures to visit the Indigenous Community regarding Trump policy under a successful relection, see Star City Tribune, there has been some criticism of counterproductivity in the Trump administration’s Indigenous Policy. The criticsm circled around Ivanka Trump’s July promotion of Native worker’s justice programs. The Star City Tribune criticized the Trump campaign for promoting oil energy projects that created remote camps of industry workers, which the editorial associated with a spike in missing Indigenous women’s cases. Should Trump be re-elected, it is not yet known what further executive programs such as Operation Lady Justice will do to collaborate with Trump’s Native workers justice programs to prevent industry projects near rural and reservation Indigenous communities from becoming greater hubs of violent crimes against Indigenous Americans.

Over-politicization of Indigenous American rights a fatal mistake for MMIP progress

The criticisms and politicization of both parties of the Election 2020 campaign may have their reflexive issues on the human rights crisis of Indigenous Americans. Observably, the bipartisan system debates moreso the approach of the candidates regarding the issue rather than solving the issue itself.

The most desirable outcome would be that, should he be elected Joe Biden does not, for sake of political rhetoric, uniformly reverse the systems that the Trump Administration has established regarding Operation Lady Justice and Missing Murdered Indigenous People’s initiatives. Were a Biden administration to reinstate a similar task force as the Operation Lady Justice, it would have the potential to extend its progress. In October, Biden met with Tribal leaders in Arizona, citing AzCentral. 

The over politicization of Native American issues would be a regress to the progress of comprehensive investigations into violent crimes against Native Americans. This regress would be a devastating backward step and would only exacerbate the human rights crisis of internally displaced, trafficked, or murdered Indigenous people.