By RAY RIVARD
Ivanka Trump, the senior advisor to President Donald Trump, visited Bloomington Monday, July 27, to help open the first Cold Case Task Force Office for Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The junior Trump was joined by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt and Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney in opening the Bloomington office, located at 2051 Killebrew Drive.
The Bloomington office was the first opened of seven such offices scheduled to be dedicated across the country in the next month.
According to a release issued following Monday’s dedication, these offices are “dedicated to solving cold cases involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
“While visiting the great state of Minnesota with Secretary Bernhardt, we are advancing two top priorities for the administration: The Pledge to America’s Workers and supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” Trump said.
“We are furthering President Trump’s commitment to forgotten men and women across our country and the administration’s efforts to ensure that all Americans can live with dignity and the promise of a brighter future.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center, there are more than 1,400 unresolved American Indian and Alaska Native missing person cases in the U.S. Of that, 136 cases are in Minnesota.
“Today’s opening of the first Missing and Murdered Native Americans Cold Case office demonstrates the commitment of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force to achieving the mandate set out for it under President Trump’s executive order,” Sweeney said.
“Cold cases in Indian Country will be addressed with determination and the understanding that the victims in these cases will be accorded some measure of dignity and compassion – not only for them, but for their survivors, as well," Bernhardt said.
“President Trump created a task force to support tribal communities, reduce the staggering number of violent crimes committed against American Indians and Alaska Natives and close out hundreds of cold cases. The Trump administration is committed to justice and working alongside these tribal communities to restore peace and prosperity.”
The offices to be opened in the next month will be staffed with law enforcement and special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, as well as personnel from other Operation Lady Justice Task Force partners, including tribal law enforcement, the FBI and the offices of the U.S. Attorneys.
The release stated, ”The Operation Lady Justice Task Force is working to collect and manage data across jurisdictions; establish protocols for new and unsolved cases; establish multi-jurisdictional cold case teams; improve the response to investigative challenges; and provide clarity on the roles, authorities and jurisdiction for those involved. It is also charged with providing a report to the president of its work and accomplishments in meeting the executive order’s mandate.”
The other offices to be opened:
• Rapid City, South Dakota (Aug. 4)
• Billings, Montana (Aug. 6)
• Nashville, Tennessee (Aug. 12)
• Albuquerque, New Mexico (Aug. 18)
• Phoenix, Arizona (Aug. 20)
• Anchorage, Alaska (Aug. 27)
Feeling left out
While the room at Monday’s office dedication was filled with Native dignitaries and law enforcement officials, there was at least one person unhappy with not being invited.
Mary Kunesh-Podein, the author and chairperson of Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, has been a DFL House representative for New Brighton and is currently running a campaign for the State Senate.
“@IvankaTrump is coming to MN open the first Missing and Murdered Native American Cold Case Office! WOW!,” Kunesh-Podein wrote on Facebook.
“Only ... no one told me – the author & chair of MN’s MMIWG Task Force or our Task Force members. No one told our legislative leaders who have work (sic) so hard these past 4 years to listen, learn, educate, and acknowledge this tragic history of our indigenous peoples? No one told the women and communities who re-lived the historical horrors of being trafficked, raped, beaten, killed with little or no recourse. Once again the voices of the American Indian women are not being acknowledged!”
Kunesh-Podein went on to criticize the administration and the lack of planning she said went into this office dedication.
“Will there be an authentic voice from the women who tearfully told their story?,” she asked on Facebook.
“Will there be someone to tell of the hard work that went into the MMIW Task Force that has had such bipartisan support #mnleg? No one knows. No one knows because no one knew that this super secret Cold Case Department was so quickly put into place just 1 week prior to this visit ... hmmm. Once again, the ‘Big White Chief in the East’ is running a dog & pony show.”
Darrell Seki, chairman of the Red Lake Nation Tribal Council, said he canceled his attendance at the dedication because of a coronavirus surge on his reservation. “I didn’t know this was going on until late last week,” he said regarding the nature of the event.
Seki said that when he was first notified, he had originally agreed to meet the secretary of the interior, but didn’t know about the office opening or Trump’s visit.
“I just found out it’s a campaign trip,” he said the morning of the office opening. “I didn’t know that was going on. I don’t want to be involved with something like that.”
He reiterated, however, that it was the surge in coronavirus cases on his reservation that caused him not to attend, and that he ultimately wouldn’t have been able to attend whatever form the event took.
Dozens of protesters carried signs and waited outside the facility during Trump’s visit to Bloomington. The protest was peaceful.