JUSTICE DEPARTMENT STRENGTHENS EFFORTS TO ADDRESS THE CRISIS OF MISSING OR MURDERED INDIGENOUS PERSONS
May 5th is MMIP Awareness Day
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Justice Department joins its partners across the federal government, as well as people throughout American Indian and Alaska Native communities, in recognizing May 5, 2023 as National Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. Responding to the unacceptable levels of violence that have led to the crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) is a priority of the Department of Justice every day.
The department’s work to respond to the MMIP crisis is a whole-of-department effort that takes many forms. One year ago today, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco joined Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to launch the Not Invisible Act Commission, a joint Commission established by the Not Invisible Act with an essential mission—to reduce violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives. In February, they welcomed the first in-person plenary meeting of the Not Invisible Act Commission. Since then, the department’s representatives on the commission—who are department leaders and subject matter experts—have participated in the Commission’s field hearings, which will continue through the summer. Later this year, the Commission will deliver recommendations for addressing the MMIP crisis to the Attorney General and the Secretary. In addition to supporting the Not Invisible Act Commission, the department remains steadfast in its commitment to addressing the MMIP crisis.
“The Justice Department is marshalling the full strength of its resources to confront the crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons, which has devastated the lives of victims, their families, and entire Tribal communities,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Addressing this crisis requires a whole-of-government approach, and we are grateful for the partnership of Tribal and other law enforcement agencies across the nation that are working alongside the Justice Department to help reduce crime and support victims in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”
“Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day calls on our nation to pause and honor the loved ones who have gone missing or who have been the victims of violent crime,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “Acknowledging the many American Indian and Alaska Native people who have suffered, and continue to suffer, from the pain of a missing loved one or of violent crime serves as an important reminder of the urgency and importance of the department’s work to respond to the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous persons. The Justice Department—including our dedicated agents, analysts, and prosecutors—remains steadfast in our pledge to work as partners with Tribal governments in preventing and responding to the violence that has disproportionately harmed Tribal communities.”
“The Justice Department is committed to using every resource at its disposal to combat the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Crisis,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “In addition to our core law-enforcement work, we are providing grant funding and guidance to help Tribes develop response plans for missing-persons cases, partner effectively with local law enforcement, and provide resources for victims of crime.”
“Crime in Indian Country, particularly when it involves violent crime, domestic violence, kidnapping, abduction, or murder, is best addressed with swift and effective action through a coordinated law enforcement response,” said United States Attorney Robert J. Troester from the Western District of Oklahoma. “These cases and investigations are a priority for my Office, and we remain committed to work with our local, state, Tribal and federal law enforcement partners agencies to resolve jurisdictional complexities and coordinate efforts so that criminal offenders are held accountable, and victims receive justice.”
Department Prioritization of MMIP Cases
In July 2022, Deputy Attorney General Monaco issued a memorandum reiterating that it is a priority of the Department of Justice to address the disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, and relatedly, the high rates of indigenous persons reported missing. The memorandum directed each United States Attorney with Indian country jurisdiction — along with their law enforcement partners at DOJ — to update and develop new plans for addressing public safety in Indian country.
With respect to missing Indigenous persons, just a few weeks ago the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma (USAO-WDOK) issued MMIP Investigative Guidelines, pursuant to Savanna’s Act, which will serve as a roadmap for handling these cases. The USAO-WDOK also created a new position of Senior Counsel for Tribal Relations and selected Arvo Q. Mikkanen, an experienced Assistant U.S. Attorney with extensive experience prosecuting cases arising in Indian country, to serve in this role. The creation of this position further heightens the USAO-WDOK’s commitment to criminal justice issues, particularly those affecting the 21 tribes with lands located in the Western District of Oklahoma.
The USAO-WDOK will also work more closely with Tribal justice partners following the passage of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act in 2022. As a result of that law’s passage, Tribal justice systems are now able, with expanded special criminal jurisdiction, to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on Tribal law enforcement officers, unlike before. Further, the USAO-WDOK has a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney—who is dually appointed as a prosecutor with the Chickasaw Nation—embedded in its office to further streamline its response and enhance coordination.
Recently, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the USAO-WDOK, along with various other state agencies participated in the “Missing in Oklahoma 2023” event on Saturday, April 22, 2023, at the University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Science Institute in Edmond. Many families and friends of missing persons attended the event providing DNA and reporting additional information to be added to NamUs. Next year, the Missing in Oklahoma event will be held on April 27, 2024, at the same location.
Publication of Updated Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance
In October 2022, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland issued revised Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. The revised guidelines, which were updated for the first time in a decade, address when and how department employees work with victims and witnesses of crime to ensure that their voices are heard and that they are protected during criminal justice proceedings. For the first time the guidelines include cultural and linguistic considerations for victims from American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
National Native American Outreach Services Liaison
Last year, the department announced the creation of a new National Native American Outreach Services Liaison. Since that announcement, the Liaison has begun to help amplify the voice of crime victims in Indian country and their families across the department as they navigate the federal criminal justice system. In the coming months, the Liaison will meet with survivors and family members of MMIP to learn more about the current challenges in MMIP cases and to make recommendations about the department’s continued response.
Federal Law Enforcement Strategy to Prevent and Respond to the MMIP Crisis
In July 2022, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior submitted a report pursuant to Sections 2 and 4(a) of Executive Order 14053, which called for “coordinated and comprehensive Federal law enforcement strategy to prevent and respond to violence against Native Americans, including to address missing or murdered indigenous people where the federal government has jurisdiction.” The report was published late last year and is available on the department website here.
Guide for Tribal Community Response Plans for Missing Persons Cases
In December 2022, the department published a Guide to Developing a Tribal Community Response Plan for Missing Persons Cases. This Guide is a resource for Tribes interested in developing a plan to respond to missing person cases that is tailored to the specific needs, resources, and culture of Tribal communities.
Launch of the COPS Office Tribal MOU/MOA Resource Library
On Monday of this week, the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) published its Tribal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)/Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) Sample Resource Library. This library provides users with the resources to research and successfully draft agreements that will help agencies develop and solidify partnerships to address missing or murdered Indigenous persons cases.
Expanded Scope of the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside Grant Program
The department’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) expanded the scope of allowable activities under its Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside (TVSSA) grant program to permit Tribal communities to pay for costs related to generating awareness of individual missing persons cases involving American Indians and Alaska Native persons, supporting private search efforts for missing American Indians and Alaska Native persons in certain circumstances, and supporting efforts to coordinate the Tribal, state, and federal response to MMIP cases.
Government-to-Government Tribal Consultation on Violence Against Women
In September 2022, the department’s Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) held the 17th Annual OVW Government-to Government Tribal Consultation on Violence Against Women in Anchorage, Alaska. OVW is responsible for conducting annual government-to-government consultations with the leaders of all Federally recognized Indian Tribal governments on behalf of the Attorney General. The 2022 Tribal consultation report is available here.
National Institute of Justice Study of MMIP Cases in New Mexico
Last year, the department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded a study that will provide vital information regarding the prevalence and context of cases of MMIP in New Mexico and, importantly, will inform long-term data collection, analysis, and reporting strategies on MMIP cases. These improvements will support data-driven decision-making regarding MMIP in New Mexico moving forward.
Additional Department of Justice Resources
For additional information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to address the MMIP crisis, please visit the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons section of the Tribal Safety and Justice website.
Click here for more information about reporting or identifying missing persons.