ON Family Violence Prevention Program answers call from Operation Lady Justice

A federal task force is asking for an Osage perspective on how to better protect Indigenous women.

Olivia Gray, the director of Osage Nation’s Family Violence Prevention Program, is among the Oklahoma Natives asked to meet with representatives from Operation Lady Justice. In addition to her professional obligations over Osage County’s only domestic violence shelter, Gray is involved with grassroots organizations that help provide services to Indigenous families with a missing or murdered relative.

“We have been asked to provide a small amount of information for an enormous problem,” she said. “It all seems to be unfolding.”

A survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, Gray also testified before an Oklahoma House of Representatives committee in November as part of an interim study requested by state Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) on the rate of missing and murdered Indigenous Oklahomans.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in November launching the inter-agency task force assigned to develop a response plan for the high rate of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

Overseen by Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, the eight-member panel includes representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI and departments of Justice, Interior and Health and Human Services and is charged with delivering its findings within two years.

Along with establishing protocols and a cross-jurisdictional team to review cases, the task force is responsible for conducting tribal consultations and facilitating sharing resources, such as database access.  

Despite the task force’s creation and state level legislation with similar goals still pending, there are still loopholes on the prosecution side of the MMIW epidemic, as the Violence Against Women Act lapsed more than a year ago during the federal government shutdown.

Two reauthorization measures are still pending in Congress. One, authored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would allow non-Natives facing domestic abuse charges before a tribal judiciary to appeal their cases to the federal court system without exhausting all tribal remedies.

However, Ernst’s bill, which also omits discrimination protections for LGBTQ abuse victims, would require additional tribal court audits by the U.S. Attorney General’s office.

The House of Representatives passed its version of a VAWA five-year reauthorization bill in April. It has since languished in the Senate, in part because it includes additional restrictions on gun purchases for people convicted of stalking or domestic abuse.