President Biden on Monday signed an executive order directing administration officials to develop a strategy to address the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous people.
“Today, I’m directing federal officials to work with tribal nations on strategies to improve public safety and advance justice,” Biden said at the virtual 2021 Tribal Nations Summit at the White House. “It’s long overdue.”
It was the first summit since 2016 and the first time the event has ever been hosted by the White House.
The president was joined by first lady Jill Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.
The executive order formally tasks the departments of Justice, Interior and Homeland Security with “addressing specific law enforcement issues, as well as providing support for Tribal Nations to implement Tribally-centered responses.” It also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan for survivor support services.
According to data from the National Crime Information Center, there were 9,571 reports of missing Indigenous people in 2020, including 5,295 for missing American Indian women and girls. But advocates say the real numbers are far higher because many missing Indigenous people go unreported for a variety of reasons, including systemic racism, fear and poor data collection.
“We’re going to make some substantial changes,” Biden said. “And it’s going to continue.”
In his remarks, Biden also discussed the health care inequities facing tribal nations and Native Americans disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Indians and Alaska Natives experienced infection rates over three times higher than non-Hispanic whites and were four times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.
The president applauded the Native American community for its vaccination rate, which is among the highest in the United States.
“That success has a lot to do with tribal leadership,” Biden said.
The executive order was among five initiatives announced by the president at the summit to “strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship.”
The efforts, he said, were “a matter of dignity.”
Last month Biden became the first president in American history to issue a proclamation declaring Oct. 11 Indigenous Peoples’ Day.