President Donald Trump formed a task force to address missing and murdered indigenous people last month.
At the signing of his executive order to establish Operation Lady Justice, Trump went off-script to acknowledge the severity of the crisis.
"We’re taking this very seriously. This has never been done before. And I’ve seen it just by reading and watching the news. It’s a very serious problem. It’s a horrible problem," Trump said.
Crow Chairman AJ Not Afraid was one of about five tribal leaders invited to witness the signing. The Crow Tribe has aligned itself with the Republican party, giving Republican Matt Rosendale an early endorsement in his run for U.S. Senate and welcoming Vice President Mike Pence for a tour of the tribe’s coal mine two years ago. The admiration was mutual during the signing , which took place shortly before Thanksgiving.
"We have a man whose name I want to use. I maybe have to change my name, because I love this name: Alvin "A.J." Not Afraid. Chairman of the Crow Nation. I love this name," Trump said.
Not Afraid: "Thank you, Mr. President."
Trump: "Where are you? Come here. Say a few words."
"Yes, sir. First of all, President, we are honored that you recognize the Native Nations, as well as the Crow Nation. We have been proponents of the Trump administration and all the endeavors," Not Afraid said.
The task force is composed of eight federal officials from the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the departments of Interior, Justice, and Health and Human Services.
Tribal councilwoman for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Charmel Gillin says she was pleased when she found out about Trump’s plans to address missing people in Indian Country.
"I think from an executive order standpoint, to me all of the bases are well covered," Gillin said.
Now she wants tribal consultation, which the executive order says the task force will do to establish the scope and nature of the issue.
She says she believes Attorney General William Barr, who will co-chair the task force, started that process last month when visited the Flathead Reservation. There, he unveiled his plan to hire coordinators in eleven U.S. Attorney’s offices to improve protocols for how law enforcement responds to missing or murdered people.
Others say the plan falls short. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and member of the Pueblo of Laguna, released a statement , saying Barr’s plan doesn’t include enough coordination at the local and tribal levels.
“The DOJ’s plan reflects a lack of consultation and with Tribes, which is a pattern of this Administration on all Indian Country issues,” she said.
Gillin’s colleague, Flathead councilwoman Shelly Fyant, has similar critiques of Operation Lady Justice.
"Unless you look at the larger picture, what is happening upstream to cause these things, it’s just going to be a bandaid," Fyant said.
She wants the task force to look at more than just law enforcement but substance abuse and the problem of runaways too.
But she says she’s not sure what they can accomplish without tribal governments at the table.
A spokesperson from the White House says that, “there will be extensive tribal consultation as it is vitally important to have robust input from tribal leaders, impacted American Indian and Alaska Native families and advocates, and other key partners.”
The spokesperson says to expect the first meeting to happen in the near future.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America corps member.