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Missing or Murdered IndigenousPersons: Legal, Prosecution,Advocacy, & Healthcare

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE JOURNAL OF FEDERAL LAW AND PRACTICE

Volume 69 | March 2021 | Number 2

Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons: Legal, Prosecution, Advocacy, & Healthcare


Introduction

Marcia Good Executive Director Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Office of Justice Programs Ernst H. Weyand Missing & Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator District of Montana


For years, tribal citizens and grass roots organizations sought to bring attention to the issues surrounding missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. In tribal consultations and listening sessions, tribal leaders, advocates, law enforcement, community members, and others raised concerns about the disappearance or murder of American Indian and Alaska Native people across the United States. Tribes began taking concerted action to address these issues in their communities. Some states also recognized these concerns and took action through legislation, state-level task forces, and tribally based field hearings. Individual federal agencies also responded, with the Department of Justice (Department), Department of the Interior (DOI), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) all proposing solutions. In 2019, the federal response began coordination in earnest.


In November 2019, the U.S. Attorney General announced the Department’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative noting, “American Indian and Alaska Native people suffer from unacceptable and disproportionately high levels of violence, which can have lasting impacts on families and communities.” The Department’s MMIP Initiative is a coordinated effort by U.S. Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI), the Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ), and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). Its objectives focus on placing MMIP coordinators in select U.S. Attorneys’ Offices (USAOs) to work with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies to develop common protocols and procedures for responding to reports of missing or murdered indigenous people; deploying the FBI’s most advanced response capabilities to support MMIP related investigations; and providing for the analysis of federally supported databases and data collection practices to identify opportunities to improve missing persons data. DOJ Journal of Federal Law and Practice March 2021


For similar reasons, the President issued Executive Order 13898 on November 26, 2019, establishing the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, also known as Operation Lady Justice (OLJ). OLJ is co-chaired by the Department and DOI with participation by HHS and has complementary goals to the Department’s MMIP Initiative. These goals include developing guidelines applicable to new and unsolved cases of missing or murdered persons in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, improving the way law enforcement investigators and prosecutors respond to the high volume of such cases, collecting and sharing data among various jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies, and establishing Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) led cold case teams to address unsolved homicides and unresolved, long-term missing person cases involving American Indians and Alaskan Natives.


Since the launch of the Department’s MMIP Initiative and OLJ, concerted efforts have advanced the development of the Tribal Community Response Plans (TCRP) containing guidelines for responding to missing indigenous person cases. The guidelines were developed as a result of nationwide listening sessions and tribal consultations that provided pertinent insight into the nature and scope of the MMIP problem. The referenced guidelines address law enforcement response, victim support services, involvement of key community stakeholders and community-based organizations, and strategies for media and public outreach and communications.


In October 2020, two bills addressing MMIP matters and violent crime impacting tribal communities were signed by the President. The Not Invisible Act provides for the creation of a joint commission on violent crime on Indian lands and against American Indians and Alaska Natives. Savanna’s Act, named after Savanna Greywind, a 22-year-old member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who was tragically murdered in North Dakota in 2017, reinforces the steps to improve MMIP data relevance and access and to create guidelines to respond to MMIP cases.


The issue of MMIP is a priority for the Department. Accordingly, two special editions of the DOJ Journal are dedicated to the issues surrounding missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. Both editions compile articles from tribal, local, state, federal, and private sector authors. The January 2021 edition is focused on law enforcement and prevention related issues. The March March 2021 DOJ Journal of Federal Law and Practice 3 2021 edition is focused on topics related to law, prosecution, advocacy, and health care related issues. It is our hope that these articles serve as a basis for continuing the conversation and advancing this work forward.


The best solutions to tribal issues come from tribes, and it is our responsibility to listen. Over the last year, listening has made it clear that a coordinated response that involves prevention, intervention, and law enforcement efforts is critical to both understanding these issues and providing the resources that tribes need to solve them at a tribal level.