May 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Haaland announces new efforts to combat Missing and Murdered Indigenous People crisis

Photo of Deb Haaland speaking from a podium in front of the U.S. Capitol
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland delivers remarks at an event on July 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Jemal Countess via Getty Images for Native Organizers Alliance

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Thursday new progress in the department's efforts to respond to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis amid calls for greater urgency.

Why it matters: Loved ones and advocates have raised alarm about the disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous people for decades, often to no avail. Native American women experience higher rates of violence than most other women and are murdered at rates 10 times the national average.

  • But prejudices and stereotypes often hinder official searches for missing Native Americans, PBS Newshour reports.
  • They also face challenges with jurisdiction. Tribes lack the authority to prosecute non-Natives in most cases due to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling, per NPR.

Driving the news: The Interior Department has unveiled new appointments to the Not Invisible Act Commission, which was established to serve as an advisory committee for the Interior and Justice Departments in its efforts to better meet Indigenous communities' public safety needs.

  • The commission is comprised of law enforcement officers, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals, "and most importantly, survivors," Haaland said at an Interior event highlighting the MMIP crisis.
  • It is tasked with tracking and responding to MMIP and human trafficking cases, developing legislative and administrative changes, holding hearings with community members, coordinating tribal-state-federal resources and improving information-sharing with tribal governments on nonviolent crimes investigations on Indigenous lands.

Context: The commission was established in October 2020 through Congress with Haaland co-sponsoring the bill, but its seats have remained empty. Some lawmakers recently criticized the Biden administration for failing to move faster on forming the commission and allowing it to get to work.

What they're saying: "I wish we didn't need to be here," Haaland said in her remarks. "I wish that this day was obsolete, that we didn't have to keep fighting year after year for our people to be honored and respected."

  • "For too long, this issue has been swept under the rug by our government with a lack of urgency, attention, or funding. The rates of missing persons cases and violence against American Indian, Alaska Native, and native Hawaiian communities are disproportionate, alarming, and unacceptable."
  • "This commission will ensure that we hear the voices of those who are most impacted by this issue," she added.
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