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Rapid City one of seven cities to get federal task force to help solve missing Indigenous people cases
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Rapid City one of seven cities to get federal task force to help solve missing Indigenous people cases

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Protesters call for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women during a 2018 march in Rapid City. 

Rapid City is one of seven cities set to house a federal task force focused on solving cold cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

President Donald Trump created the task force to “reduce the staggering number of violent crimes committed against American Indians and Alaska Natives and close out hundreds of cold cases,” Secretary David Bernhardt said in a news release from the Department of Interior.

There are more than 1,400 unsolved cases, the release says.

“Cold cases in Indian Country will be addressed with determination and the understanding that the victims in these cases will be accorded some measure of dignity and compassion — not only for them, but for their survivors,” said Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

Trump created the Operation Lady Justice Task Force in a November 2019 executive order. It will be co-chaired by Bernhardt and Attorney General William Barr and is a way for “top federal officials to engage, coordinate and work with tribal governments on developing strategies to address the crisis.”

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Rapid City’s task force office is opening on Tuesday, Aug. 4. An office in Bloomington, Minnesota, opened Monday and others are set to open in Billings, Montana; Nashville, Tennessee; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; and Anchorage, Alaska.

The offices will be staffed by the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’s Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS), federal prosecutors and tribal law enforcement.

The task force will:

  • Establish multi-jurisdictional cold case teams;
  • Establish protocols for new and unsolved cases;
  • Collect and manage data across jurisdictions;
  • Improve the response to investigative challenges;
  • Provide clarity on the roles, authorities and jurisdiction for those involved.

The BIA-OJS has already partnered with the Department of Justice to add tribal affiliation data fields to the DOJ’s missing person database. This has created a 60% increase in the number of Indigenous people being added to the system.

The Trump administration argues in the press release that violence against Indigenous communities is “largely predicated on ending illicit drug activities and sex trafficking.”

Federal officials have opened 200% more drug cases in Indian Country than in the last year of the Obama administration, the release says. Federal and tribal law enforcement has seized about 6,000 pounds of drugs worth $30 million in the past two years.

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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