BILLINGS — The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs opened a new office in Billings on Thursday to investigate cold cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
It is the third of seven nationwide to open under the Operation Lady Justice Task Force. The first office opened July 27 in Bloomington, Minnesota.
In addition to the Minnesota and Montana offices, once the program is fully implemented, there will also be offices in Rapid City, South Dakota; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; Anchorage, Alaska; and Nashville, Tennessee.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last year to create Operation Lady Justice, aimed at addressing the increasing number of missing women on reservations in the United States.
A news release says the goal of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force is "to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system and address the staggering number of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Natives in tribal communities."
”The Blackfeet Nation is in full support of the Cold Case Murder Task Force Office opening in our region and are hopeful that this will be a path forward for providing justice to the many Indian families who have lost loved ones to either murder and or abduction,” said Blackfeet Chairman Timothy Davis.
“The Chippewa Cree Tribe is in support of the cold case murder Task Force! We need better communication at all levels in order to better address these issues in Indian country,” said Chairman Harlan Baker. “With this task force I believe the mechanism will be in place to better serve these needs and address this specific issue for our native communities.”
“The new U.S. Department of Justice Cold Case Task Force Office that will be opened in Billings, Montana, will be a great assistance to help answer questions that have gone unanswered for years,” said Andrew Werk Jr., president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community.
“It will be a great help in bringing comfort and settlement to the families of those who have been missing for years. The Fort Belknap Indian Community is supportive of efforts to help Indian Country assist their members in finding closure and bringing individuals to justice.”
“The Little Shell whole heartily supports the Cold Case Task Force,” said Little Shell Tribe Councilwoman Iris Kill Eagle.
“With the BIA taking a lead in the missing and murdered indigenous people, hopefully some closure can be given to families who have had loved ones missing or unsolved murders for years. It also helps to bring more attention to the problems faced in these cases. With this task force and the Attorney General’s task force we are looking forward to some answers being found.”