Biden Signs Executive Order Targeted at Curbing Human Trafficking, Crime on Native Lands

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at curbing human trafficking and crime on Native lands.

The Native American communities' violent crimes rate is more than double the national average, according to The Associated Press. The executive order, signed at a White House summit of tribal nations, the first since 2016, tasks the Justice, Homeland Security, and Interior Departments with working together to combat the issues. The summit is a two-day event with leaders from over 570 tribes in the U.S. attending, ABC News reported.

The departments will work to grow participation in the Amber Alert programs and national training programs for federal agents, as well as appoint a liaison to speak to family members and advocates.

"We have to continue to stand up for the dignity and sovereignty of tribal nations," Biden said at the summit.

According to the Association on American Indian Affairs, American Indians and Alaska natives are over twice as likely to be victims of violent crimes and at least twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped compared to other races. Over 4 in 5 Native American women, or 84.3 percent, experience violence in their lifetime.

In addition, the administration announced plans for a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling in Chaco Canyon, an ancient Native American site located northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is to protect the national park and UNESCO World Heritage site.

A study will look for possible withdrawal from federal lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park by the Bureau of Land Management, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. The lands will not be eligible for leasing during the study. Past administrations have opted to enforce the buffer administratively, though.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Joe Biden, Executive Order, Native Americans
President Joe Biden signs an executive order to help curb human trafficking and crime for Native Americans during a Tribal Nations Summit during Native American Heritage Month, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Environmentalists and some tribes have complained that such a move is temporary and that permanent protections are needed. But it isn't so simple; while some tribes have fought for protections, the Navajo Nation, which has more to lose by curbing oil and gas, has asked for a smaller radius around the site, an ancient center of Pueblo culture.

"Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community," said Haaland, the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, the powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over U.S. tribes for generations. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo.

"Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations," she said. The secretary represented New Mexico, where Chaco Canyon is located, in the U.S. House of Representatives before she was narrowly confirmed by the Senate to take over at Interior.

First lady Jill Biden, an English teacher, addressed the summit on the importance of preserving Native languages. Vice President Kamala Harris was set to speak Tuesday, the final day.

The tribal nations summit coincides with National Native American Heritage Month and is being hosted by the White House for the first time, with leaders from more than 570 tribes in the United States expected to participate. The summit was not held during the Trump administration; past conferences took place at the Interior Department.

Since taking office in January, Biden has taken several steps that the White House says demonstrate his commitment to tribal nations.

Among them are naming Haaland to lead the Interior Department. His coronavirus relief plan included $31 billion for tribal communities, and the administration has worked closely with tribal leaders to help make COVID-19 vaccination rates among Native Americans among the highest in the country, the White House said.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said she hoped the summit would help eliminate red tape when building critical infrastructure on tribal lands.

Biden also spoke about infrastructure, specifically to note that the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he was signing into law Monday afternoon would direct $13 billion toward Native American communities that he said have been "chronically underfunded" for generations.

Biden recently became the first president to issue a proclamation designating Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples' Day, giving a boost to longstanding efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native peoples.

Executive Order, Joe Biden, Native Americans
Wolf Ramerez of Houston, Texas, center, joins others with the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas in holding up his fists as indigenous and environmental activists protest in front of the White House in Washington, Oct. 11, 2021. President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at curbing human trafficking and crimes on Native lands Monday. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo, File