Indianz.Com > News > New project focuses on missing and murdered cases as Indian Country prepares for change in administration
Muscogee (Creek) Nation: Missing and Murdered Cases Pilot Program Announcement – November 23, 2020
New project focuses on missing and murdered cases as Indian Country prepares for change in administration
Monday, November 30, 2020

With change coming at the highest levels of power, tribal and federal officials are working to ensure the crisis of missing and murdered loved ones in Indian Country remains a priority for the U.S. government.

Leaders of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Cherokee Nation came together last week to help announce the first tribal community response plan for missing and murdered cases. The pilot project is based in Oklahoma, where the two tribes will work closely with federal authorities to develop culturally-appropriate guidelines for investigating such cases.

“The safety and protection of our people and the demand for justice are of the utmost importance to tribal leaders,” Chief David Hill of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation said at his tribe’s River Spirit Casino Resort last Monday.

Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. of the Cherokee Nation said the announcement represented “great progress” in long-running efforts to address cases of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, many of which go unsolved. The new project, which is being overseen by two U.S. Attorney’s Offices on tribal territory, is the first of six across the country.

“Cherokee culture teaches us that every life, every person, is precious, is sacred and its existence should be treated as such,” said Hoskin.

Cherokee Nation: Tribal Community Response Plan for Missing and Murdered Cases – November 23, 2020

According to U.S. Attorney Trent Shores, there are currently 65 documented cases of missing Native people in Oklahoma. He said authorities from federal, tribal and even the state government can work together to investigate every single incident.

“We think that every victim deserves a measure of justice and every victim’s family deserves justice,” said Shores, who is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation.

“It’s our intent to take on as many cases as we can,” Shores added.

Shores was nominated to his post as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma by President Donald Trump, who will be leaving office on January 20, 2021. Though the pilot program was announced just three weeks after the November 3 election, it is intended to extend into the next administration.

“This issue — missing and murdered Indigenous people — transcends politics so it’s going to transcend administration,” said Shores, who is the only Native person who served as U.S. Attorney during the Trump years.

Shores further described the process for developing new missing and murdered case protocols as one that is being driven by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and by the Cherokee Nation, not the U.S. government. But as the current chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, which focuses on Indian Country issues at the Department of Justice (DOJ), he vowed to keep the issue on the radar as the Trump era comes to an end.

“I think we have the obligation to do so, not just as part of our trust responsibility but as men and women of law enforcement and who are of a community that has to take care of our missing persons and families of those victims,” said Shores.

In September, Attorney General William Barr traveled to the Cherokee Nation to discuss a wide range of Indian Country issues, including missing and murdered cases. He also learned more about the impacts of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which confirmed the existence of the reservation promised to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation by treaty.

At the time of the September 30 visit, Barr snubbed Creek leaders by not meeting with them in person. But he did invite the tribe to Washington, D.C., where Chief Hill eventually participated in a follow-up at DOJ headquarters on October 23.

With Trump heading out of office, Barr will soon be out of a job as well. He will have led DOJ for less than two years, during which he visited the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation in Montana in November 2019. He also met with Alaska Native leaders in May 2019.

Under Barr’s tenure, the Trump administration launched Operation Lady Justice in November 2019. The group has looking into the crisis of missing and murdered Native people, with an initial report due before the end of this month.

But since the task force consists solely of federal officials — including U.S. Attorney Shores — advocates for Native women have criticized its limited focus. A promise to include more tribal input went unfulfilled as the group conducted all of its listening sessions and consultations virtually, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted Indian Country at disproportionate rates.

“The Operation Lady Justice task force was only made up of federal employees and political appointees,” Elizabeth Carr, the Senior Native Affairs Advisor at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, pointed out during a November 18 event hosted by Crushing Colonialism, a non-profit Indigenous media organization.

By failing to formally include tribal voices and those most affected by missing and murdered cases, Carr believes the Trump administration’s efforts to address the crisis have come up short. In comparison, Carr said Native women are looking forward to the implementation of two new U.S. laws whose provisions were drafted with direct input from Indian Country.

“The reason this one is different is that it actually includes tribal leaders and tribal advocates,” Carr, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said of S.227, also known as Savanna’s Act, and S.982, the Not Invisible Act, both of which became law on October 10.

In particular, Carr noted that the Not Invisible Act requires DOJ and the Department of the Interior to work with survivors and families of those affected by missing and murdered cases. She described the forthcoming effort as a step in the right direction.

“We’re hopeful that this task force will come up with some real concrete action items that will be functional and will actually make a difference in Indian Country,” Carr said of the commission that will be established by S.982.

“Our hope is that in the next coming administration, we’ll be able to assist the DOJ and the Department of the Interior with the implementation,” Carr said during the Crushing Colonialism virtual seminar.

Indianz.Com Video: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) #MMIW #NotInvisible

In his recently updated Plan for Tribal Nations, President-elect Joe Biden has promised to address the “epidemic” of missing and murdered Native women and girls. He said his administration will “partner with tribal leaders and tribal women’s advocates” in seeking solutions to the crisis.

“More than 1 in 2 Native women are subject to sexual violence in their lives, with more than 1 in 7 experiencing it in the past year, and murder is the third leading cause of death of Native women,” the plan reads. “There are far too many unresolved or unprosecuted cases of missing and murdered indigenous women.”

According to federal officials, a tribal community response plan details how a tribal nation responds to a report of a missing person. It is expected to focus on on at least four different areas: law enforcement, victim services, community outreach and media/public communication.

“Tribal community response plans will unite people, agencies, and sovereigns committed to justice and liberty for all,” said U.S. Attorney Brian J. Kuester of the Eastern District of Oklahoma, who participated last week’s announcement. “Together we will identify and implement the best practices for responding to and investigating cases involving missing and murdered indigenous people.”

It will up to each tribe to determine the exact nature of its response plan and to approve the plan. The guidelines developed by each tribe will be forwarded to federal authorities, including the FBI, as well as state governments.

Note: Acee Agoyo of Indianz.Com serves as a board member for Crushing Colonialism. It is a volunteer, non-paid position.

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