Appearing in public with President Donald Trump can be toxic, more so given the impeachment inquiry against him. But tribal leaders who met with him at the White House
on Tuesday say they had the best interests of their people in mind when they went to the nation's capital.
In a post on social media, Melanie Benjamin, the Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
, said she was asked over the weekend to attend the event, during which Trump signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
. By agreeing to go to the White House, she wrote that she chose to "focus on the office the person holds" and was committed to "advancing the goals of the band" during the meeting.
"As Chief Executive, I took an oath to protect the general welfare of the Mille Lacs Band," Benjamin wrote
in the post. "With that oath, comes a solemn duty to advocate for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe to the best of my ability in a government-to-government manner, and in a non-partisan way whenever I have the opportunity to do so."
Over the weekend, I received a phone call from the White House saying that I was being invited to attend an event...Posted by Melanie Benjamin on Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Emphasizing the non-partisan nature of her approach, she noted that the Democratic leadership in her home state of Minnesota recently established the Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
. The legislation was written by State Rep. Mary
(D), who is a descendant of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
, and was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz
(D), who made history last year by selecting Peggy Flanagan
, a former state lawmaker who is a citizen of the White Earth Nation
, as his Lieutenant Governor
According to Benjamin, the federal and state "efforts will hopefully be complimentary [sic
] and bring new resources to this critical issue that impacts every tribal community in the United States." Her diplomatic and measured statement was met with congratulatory and supportive remarks on social media.
In his own statement after the White House meeting, Chairman Alvin "A.J." Not Afraid of the Crow Tribe
, also welcomed the federal attention. He believes the new task force will help put pressure on local and regional authorities within the Bureau of Indian Affairs
, whom he has accused of ignoring the public safety needs
of his people.
“Sometimes, the local or regional level gets complacent," Not Afraid said
in the statement. "So, I welcome this support from the President. Nation-to-nation, I thank him for placing a spotlight on those we have lost, recognizing that losing one more child, one more person, is one too many.”
Statement from the Office of the Chairman regarding the establishment of the “Operation Lady Justice Task Force” by...Posted by Crow Tribe of Indians on Tuesday, November 26, 2019
During the event, Trump pointed out the unique nature of Not Afraid's name, asking the chairman whether he was "not afraid of anything?"
The Crow leader expanded on that thought in his follow-up statement.
The same must be true of all of our People: we cannot be afraid of the challenges we face, no matter where they come from — bureaucracy, antipathy, hopelessness or fear," said Not Afraid, who hosted a law enforcement roundtable
on the reservation on Monday to discuss, among other issues, the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans. "We must protect our Elders, women and children, and all those people who are fearful of coming forward to ask for our help: we must help them to be 'not afraid' as well.”
Inside the Oval Office, Not Afraid was definitely not afraid to let Trump know that he supports the president's initiatives, particularly those directed
at boosting the coal production economy, upon which the tribe is dependent for jobs and revenues. "We have been proponents of the Trump administration and all the endeavors," he said, implying that the entire "Crow Nation" stands behind him in that respect.
Not Afraid's desire to align his tribe with Republican politicians, though, hasn't always gone over well at home. He faced protests following his endorsement of a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate
who eventually lost to Democrat Jon Tester
, who is well known in the chamber
for championing legislation and policy favoring the Crows and other Indian nations
Along those same lines, Not Afraid proved himself eager to stroke the president's ego: he presented Trump with a photo taken during a Republican campaign rally in Montana
last year. It shows the occupant of the White House in a flattering light, with a small number of Crow men in headdresses strategically placed behind him
Another tribal leader at the event, Vice President Myron
of the Navajo
, also released comments after the meeting, as did his wife, Second Lady Dottie Lizer
, who attended wearing red, the color of the #MMIW movement. Both said the task force will boost newly announced efforts at the Department of Justice
, which plans to invest $1.5 million in addressing the missing and murdered in Indian Country.
“This is another step forward for Indigenous nations throughout the country," said Lizer, who is frequently dispatched by President Jonathan Nez
to advocate on behalf of the tribe's interests in Washington, D.C.
"I commend President Trump and his administration for recognizing the traumatic epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. Throughout our tribal nations, we hear far too many stories of families, victims, and survivors so we need to keep our sacred women and children safe and protected."
“The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous persons has not only affected families, but it impacts communities," added Second Lady Lizer, "As leaders, we must continue to advocate for safety and justice for Native women and children. Most importantly, we need to address efforts to restore balance, love, and harmony within Native homes and communities."
“On behalf of the 24th Navajo Nation Council, I wish to express a deep concern with the approach the Office of the...Posted by Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives Data Institute on Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Back home in Navajo, not everyone was happy with the Nez-Lizer approach. Key members of the Navajo Nation Council
accused the tribe's executive branch of being exclusionary and even secretive in their dealings regarding missing and murdered Dine people.
"On behalf of the 24th Navajo Nation Council, I wish to express a deep concern with the approach the Office of the President and Vice President has taken in addressing the issues of Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives (MMDR) and Indigenous People," said Speaker Seth Damon
. "Though widely publicized, their involvement has not reflected the best of the Navajo Nation’s efforts to tackle this issue head-on."
According to Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty
, the Nez-Lizer administration has excluded the tribe's legislative branch from "crucial meetings with high-level leadership," such as the event at the White House on Tuesday. Instead of attending the public MMDR forums
that began earlier this year, she said the executive branch leaders established their own missing and murdered task force that isn't open to everyone.
“The work of MMDR is ongoing and we are incredibly happy that our partnering stakeholders honor our work and consult with us as we all are finding solutions to the missing and murdered crisis. We will continue to work directly with the families because it is our goal to recover our missing relatives and provide justice to our Navajo relatives,” said Crotty, who has been a leader in addressing issues affecting women on the reservation. “We call on President Nez to provide the same courtesy because we are all working towards the same goal—credit does not belong to one entity alone.”
President Donald Trump displays a framed photo presented to him by Chairman Alvin "A.J." Not Afraid of the Crow Tribe at the White House in Washington, D.C., on November 26, 2019. Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian / White House
Going forward, the members of the new Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
has been directed to "conduct appropriate consultations with tribal governments" as they address law enforcement relationships and protocols, look into cold cases in tribal communities and raise more awareness of issues facing the missing and murdered. But they will be doing so as a federal family -- Trump's executive order establishes a body, to be housed and funded by the Department of Justice, composed solely of federal representatives.
The White House order does not set aside membership on the task force for tribal nations, Indian organizations, urban Indian groups or to survivors, victims and family members. The bipartisan Not Invisible Act
, in comparison, establishes a more inclusive advisory commission to discuss the best ways to address missing, murdered and trafficked Native Americans.
The Not Invisible Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate
. It was approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
during which key lawmakers decried the partisanship that has slowed progress on legislation to expand protections for Native women
and to address the #MMIW crisis.
The U.S. House of Representatives
version of the Not Invisible Act is H.R.2438
. It has not yet received a hearing in the chamber.
Tribal Leaders at the White House
Indianz.Com on YouTube: President Trump promises action on missing and murdered in Indian Country
White House on YouTube: President Trump Signs an Executive Order on Establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Executive Order on Establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
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Lady Justice features artwork by D.G. Smalling of Choctaw Nation
(November 26, 2019)
Trump promises action on missing and murdered in Indian Country