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Biden orders new strategy in responding to MMIW crisis

White House Tribal Nations Summit
President Joe Biden addressing the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Monday.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order addressing violence against Indigenous people at the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Monday. It gives federal law enforcement agencies roughly eight months to develop a comprehensive strategy for improving public safety and criminal justice in Indian Country.

“We acknowledge that our country has historically failed to meet the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people with the urgency and the resources it demands,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in addressing the first tribal nations summit since 2016. “We also recognize that solving this crisis requires that we work in partnership with one another.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report released this month that found that federal agencies haven't done enough to tackle the crisis. Research has long shown that Indigenous people, and women and girls in particular, suffer higher rates of violence than other demographics.

The executive order directs the Department of Justice, along with the Interior and Homeland Security departments, to improve the federal government’s data collection and analysis efforts regarding violent crime and missing persons cases in Indian Country. The agencies will submit a report to the president on their efforts before July of next year.

Biden also announced four other initiatives addressing Indigenous issues, including stronger protections around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The area is an ancestral homeland for the Pueblos, Hopi and Navajo nations. The Interior Department will take a hard look at banning oil and gas leasing on federal lands within a ten-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

In addition, the White House issued a memorandum recognizing tribes’ traditional knowledge of natural resources.

“My administration will be the first to work with the tribes to comprehensively incorporate tribal ecological knowledge into the federal government’s scientific approach, helping us fight climate change,” Biden said in his opening remarks at the summit.

Examples of such Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge include prescribed burns, also known as cultural fires. They were used by Indigenous people for centuries to help manage fire-dependent landscapes.

The tribal nations summit continues Tuesday, live-streamed on YouTube.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.