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At this point, it’s a well known fact that there is a problem with violence on Native American lands. According to the Association on American Indian Affairs, Indigenous Americans are more than twice as likely to be a victim of a violent crime than non-Natives. And not to mention, the epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) is crippling Indigenous communities. 

On Monday, President Biden signed an executive order requiring the departments of the Interior, Justice and Homeland Security to work together to find solutions to reduce crime on Native American lands. 

The order comes in the middle of Native American Heritage month, a time when the U.S. recognizes the unique traditions, practices and cultural contributions of Indigenous Americans. And notably, October 11 was declared to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day by President Biden — a symbolic move meant to celebrate Native Americans while no longer venerating the conquistador, Christopher Columbus.

President Biden signed the order at the Tribal Leaders Summit — the first one to ever be hosted by the White House. Past summits typically have taken place at the Interior Department.

“Today, I’m directing federal officials to work with tribal nations on a strategy to improve public safety and advanced justice,” Biden said at the White House’s first-ever Tribal Leaders Summit.

The President continued: “This builds on the work we did together on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, when we granted authority to tribes to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit violence on tribal lands.”

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland stood beside Biden as he announced the initiative. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, is the first Native American to ever serve as a cabinet secretary. 

In April, Secretary Haaland created a unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs (which she oversees) that will investigate the crisis of murdered and missing people on Native American Lands.

The crisis of violence on Native American lands is fueled by structural factors, like the legacy of colonization and subsequent oppression and poverty of Native Peoples as well as the difficult nature of policing Indian Country when they operate with their own set of laws. Activists say that neither law enforcement nor the mainstream media pay attention to murdered or missing Indigenous peoples. This ordinance is an attempt to move the needle in the right direction.

At the time, Haaland said: “Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades. Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated.”

It appears that President Biden is taking even larger steps to address this crisis. 

Among the orders that Biden tasked the departments with were: strengthening Amber Alert programs in Indian Country, fortifying national training programs for federal agents and appointing a liaison who can speak to Indigenous communities. Additionally, The Department of Health and Human Services is tasked with creating violence prevention programs and providing more victim support to Native Americans.

According to the National Crime Information Center, approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Natives have been reported missing. 2,700 homicides were reported to the government’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. For reference, the total population of Native Americans in the U.S. is 1.5 million — roughly 1.5% of the population.