ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In Nov. 2019 President Trump signed an executive order officially establishing a task force designed specifically to take a closer look - and hopefully, action - on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The executive order called for a task force to be created to look at cold cases throughout Indian Country and Alaska Native communities. Thus Operation Lady Justice was born.
Tara Sweeney, Asst. Secretary of Indian Affairs, sat down with our DC Bureau to about how the name “Lady Justice” came to be.
“Discussing was taking place back and forth throughout the staff on what represents this sort of inside of Indian Affairs and naturally DG’s art piece came to mind,” Sweeney said, “It’s a beautiful representation of the issues that we are looking to tackle.”
The artwork was done by DG Smalling, an Oklahoma Choctaw Native artist. In Nov. 2018 during Native Heritage month Smalling was Indian Affairs featured artist. That’s where “Lady Justice” was first shown.
“I recall during his presentation the explanation that he gave about 'Lady Justice,' -that she is in a battle stance and it symbolizes the protection of our communities. And that fact that she has tucked under her arm a drum, with interlocking arms, again is another symbolism of protecting out people.”
The executive order also called with the task force to “come up with protocols that help clarify the roles in areas where there are multi jurisdictions and working with the tribal community on identify other issues that task force needs to be aware of.”
The task force has two years to develop and submit to the President a final written report regarding the activities and accomplishments of the Task Force. After two years the task force will be terminated unless told otherwise by the President.
Sweeney said that tribal engagment is essential to providing closure to the victims.
"The intent of the executive order and everything we are doing within Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services is to provide closure to those families who have fallen victim to a loved one that is either missing or murdered,” she said. “We want to insure that data and the integrity of the data with respect to domestic violence, violent crimes in Indian country and Alaska Native communities is accurate.”
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Idian Affairs website, Sweeney is the first Alaska Native and the second woman to be confirmed for the position.
She is from Utqiagvik.
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