Arizona Indigenous cold cases to be probed by new task force

The Associated Press

This will be the 5th of seven offices being established across the U.S. as part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force

Associated Press

PHOENIX — U.S. officials are opening an office in Arizona aimed at investigating cold cases involving Indigenous people who have been killed or are missing.

The office will open in the Gila River Indian Community south of Phoenix on Thursday. The task force is part of an effort to address unsolved cases of violence against Native Americans, particularly women and girls.

It will be the fifth of seven offices being established across the U.S. as part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force, created by an executive order by President Donald Trump in November 2019.

Besides solving cases, the program also is aimed at developing protocols for law enforcement to respond to cases involving missing and killed Indigenous people and at improving data collection processes.

The federal program comes after an Arizona committee launched a statewide call for survivors and families of missing and killed Indigenous people to share their experiences, The Arizona Republic reported.

More than 80 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, according to a 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice. 

More than 50 percent were victims of sexual or physical violence, the study said. The institute also said in 2015 that more than one in three Native women had experienced violence.

The Murder Accountability Project group that tracks unsolved U.S, homicides said that half of all murders in self-governed Native American communities are not reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies.

Other offices to investigate unsolved cases with Indigenous victims will be established in Alaska and Tennessee. 

All will be staffed with special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They will help coordinate efforts with local, federal and tribal law enforcement to solve the cases.

The Arizona office will take on 239 cold cases, according to Tara Katuk Sweeney, the U.S. Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

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