And it was not terrible. As in his two earlier proclamations, Biden pledged to work with Native communities “to find justice, keep families safe, and help them heal.” The scourge of MMIWG was “an epidemic,” he said, that will not be cured until the United States responds “with urgency and the resources needed to stop the violence and reverses the legacy of inequity and neglect that often drives it.”
Biden recalled the work his administration has done, mostly through a 2021 executive order that required federal agencies to investigate “the cause of the crisis, collecting better data on these overwhelmingly underreported crimes, and develop a strategy to combat this epidemic, which most often impacts women, girls, LGBTQI+ people in the communities, and Two-Spirit Native Americans.” Is Biden the first American president to use the phrase “Two-Spirit”?
Biden has done a lot: investing in shelters and rape crisis centers on Tribal lands and “trauma-informed training that helps law enforcement and courts be more responsive” and sympathetic, as well as an expanded recognition of “Tribal courts’ jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators suspected of committing crimes of stalking, sexual assault, child abuse and sex trafficking on Tribal lands.” Biden justly mentioned his role in writing the original Violence Against Women Act and in strengthening VAWA as Vice President and President. President Biden acknowledged the pain this day brought to many Indigenous peoples, and called “all Americans and all levels of government to support Tribal governments and Tribal communities’ efforts to increase awareness and address the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous persons.” He said that “we are working to address the underlying causes of violence from human trafficking to longstanding economic disparities, systemic racism, historical trauma, and the need for services to address substance use disorders.”
Has Biden done enough?
Of course not. Much remains to be done. His administration, like that of his predecessor, will not consider supporting legislation that would repeal the Supreme Court’s disastrous 1978 Oliphant decision. The Supremes are poised within the next several weeks to gut the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, and have demonstrated little willingness to take seriously Native American nationhood when it threatens at a profound level state sovereignty. Though Biden’s approach to MMIWG is little different in its fundamentals than President Trump’s “Operation Lady Justice,” it is a start.
Presidential proclamations may not mean much. I am sure that only a tiny, tiny percentage of Americans read them. If the news media does not bring them to the attention of the American people, they fall on deaf ears. There is little this government can do to help Indigenous communities heal, not with Red State governments banning any sort of history teaching that suggests that children reflect on the uglier parts of this nation’s history. The Republican racists will work to silence America’s violent treatment of Native Americans. But it is a start. And the important thing to remember is that Biden, like Trump before him, has only come to see MMIWG as a national crisis because of the pressure placed upon him by thousands of Native American people and their allies committed to preventing the loss of any more stolen sisters.