Oklahoma To Play Key Role In National Strategy To Address Missing And Murdered Native Americans

Friday, November 22nd 2019, 5:03 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma will play a key roll in a nationwide plan on Friday to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people as concerns mount over the level of violence they face.

Attorney General William Barr announced the plan, known as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative, during a visit with tribal leaders and law enforcement officials on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

Native American women experience some of the nation’s highest rates of murder, sexual violence and domestic abuse.

A report released last year by the Urban Indian Health Institute said there were 5,712 cases of missing and murdered indigenous girls in 2016, but only 116 of those cases were logged in a Justice Department database. The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than 50 percent of Native American women experienced sexual violence.

The Justice Department’s new initiative would invest $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney’s offices across the U.S., who would be responsible for developing protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to missing persons cases.

There will be 11 coordinators in U.S. Attorney's offices in 11 states - and Oklahoma is one of those states, Barr announced Friday. The MMIP coordinator will be based at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma, headed by U.S. Attorney Trent Shores in Tulsa.

The coordinator will assist all three U.S. Attorneys' Offices in the state.

"The Cherokee Nation has held strong partnerships with the U.S. Attorney’s offices in the Northern and Eastern Districts, which is essential for the protection of our tribal communities and prevention of missing and murdered Native Americans in Indian Country," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. said.

"We know these new efforts to enhance law enforcement coordination will improve data sharing and help reduce the violence against our native people."

Tribal or local law enforcement officials would also be able to call on the FBI to help in some missing indigenous persons cases. The FBI could then deploy some of its specialized teams, including investigators who focus on child abduction or evidence collection and special agents who can help do a quick analysis of digital evidence and social media accounts.

The Justice Department is also committing to conducting an in-depth analysis of federal databases and its data collection practices to determine if there are ways to improve the collection of data in missing persons cases.

“American Indian and Alaska Native people suffer from unacceptable and disproportionately high levels of violence, which can have lasting impacts on families and communities,” Barr said in a statement. “Too many of these families have experienced the loss of loved ones who went missing or were murdered.”

Federal prosecutors in Montana are also bringing public training to reservations in the state, teaching people how to find missing loved ones.

Tribal police and investigators from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs generally serve as law enforcement on reservations, which are sovereign nations. But the FBI investigates certain offenses and, if there’s ample evidence, the Justice Department prosecutes major felonies such as murder, kidnapping and rape if they happen on tribal lands.

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