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Guest Column | New tool, commitment to solve missing/murdered cases

By Grace Benally

Among American Indian and Alaska Native communities, homicide is the third leading cause of death, according to a 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute.

As of December 2021, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced a new website that is dedicated to solving missing and murdered cases in Indian Country across the United States.

The new tool includes cases that involve missing and murdered Indigenous people that any of the offices within the BIA are working on and invites the public to assist law enforcement to solve those cases.

“This new website represents a new tool in the effort to keep communities safe and provide closure for families,” said Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

With the leadership of Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the Department of Interior is looking to collaborate with tribal governments, law agencies, survivors, families of those who are missing, and community members to address the crisis.

Jason O’Neal, deputy bureau director of Justice Services, said the website is a resource that will connect the people who might have important information about cases for the investigating agency and will get timely feedback to address any concerns of Native communities.

The website provides detailed resources about the missing and murdered, updated case information, and links to help investigators with the detection of an offense that happens in Indian Country.

Of the multiple resources on the website, there are links to a new Missing and Murdered Unit that was formed under Haaland.

In early 2021, Haaland announced the formation of a Missing and Murdered Unit inside the BIA Office of Justice Services to supply a reformed direction for interagency work toward missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades,” Haaland said. “Far too often, murders and missing person cases in Indian Country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated.”

In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, but the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, only logged 116 cases.

The Missing and Murdered Unit has the ability to collaborate with other agencies such as enhancing NamUs, developing a partnership with stakeholders such as the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, the FBI Forensic Laboratory, the U.S. Marshals Missing Child Unit, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help record the missing cases and get them solved.

The BIA is open to public assistance and any information on cases that involve missing or murdered victims within Indian Country.

With the large data gap in missing and murdered cases, a majority of the cases go unsolved or become cold cases, which leads to no news coverage for the families of the victims.

Haaland and the department are committed that the Missing and Murdered Unit will investigate missing and murdered cases to get justice for those impacted by violence and to help the communities they happen in.

Grace Benally, Diné, is a student journalist at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree. She was born in Shiprock and raised in Mesa, Arizona.


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