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Justice Department Strengthens Efforts, Builds Partnerships to Address the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons

WASHINGTON – 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 as National Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Awareness Day.

In recognition of MMIP Awareness Day, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland highlighted ongoing efforts to tackle the MMIP and human trafficking crises in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and other pressing public safety challenges, like the fentanyl crisis, in Tribal communities.

"There is still so much more to do in the face of persistently high levels of violence that Tribal communities have endured for generations, and that women and girls, particularly, have endured," said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. "In carrying out our work, we seek to honor those who are still missing, those who were stolen from their communities, and their loved ones who are left with unimaginable pain. Tribal communities deserve safety, and they deserve justice. This day challenges all of us at the Justice Department to double down on our efforts, and to be true partners with Tribal communities as we seek to end this crisis."

"The FBI remains unwavering in our pledge to work with our law enforcement partners to address the violence that has disproportionately harmed Tribal communities and families," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "We will continue to prioritize our support of victims and will steadfastly pursue investigations into the crime impacting American Indian and Alaska Native communities."

"DEA's top priority is protecting all communities from deadly drugs, like fentanyl, and drug related violent crime," said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). "We know that no community has been spared from these deadly threats and we are committed to keeping Tribal communities safe."

Justice Department Prioritization of MMIP Cases

Last July, the Justice Department announced the creation of the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Regional Outreach Program, which permanently places 10 attorneys and coordinators in five designated regions across the United States to aid in the prevention and response to missing or murdered Indigenous people. The five regions are the Northwest, Southwest, Great Plains, Great Lakes, and Southeast Regions.

U.S. Attorneys and MMIP personnel engaged in events with Tribal and law enforcement partners, communities, and stakeholders today across the United States, and will continue to do so in the days to come.

The MMIP Regional Outreach Program dedicates five MMIP Assistant U.S. Attorneys and five MMIP coordinators to provide specialized support to U.S. Attorneys' offices to address and combat the issues of MMIP. This support includes assisting in the investigation of unresolved MMIP cases and related crimes, and promoting communication, coordination, and collaboration among federal, Tribal, local, and state law enforcement, and non-governmental partners on MMIP issues.

The MMIP regional program prioritizes MMIP cases consistent with the Deputy Attorney General's July 2022 directive to U.S. Attorneys' Offices promoting public safety in Indian country. The program fulfills the Justice Department's promise to dedicate new personnel to MMIP consistent with Executive Order 14053, Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People, and the Department's Federal Law Enforcement Strategy to Prevent and respond to Violence Against American Indians and Alaska Natives, Including to Address Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons issued in July 2022.

Not Invisible Act Commission Response

The Department's work to respond to the MMIP crisis is a whole-of-Department effort. In March, the Departments of Justice and the Interior released their joint response to the Not Invisible Act Commission (NIAC)'s recommendations on how to combat the missing or murdered Indigenous peoples (MMIP) and human trafficking crises. The NIAC response, announced by Attorney General Garland during a visit to the Crow Nation, recognizes that more must be done across the federal government to resolve this longstanding crisis and support healing from the generational traumas that Indigenous peoples have endured throughout the history of the United States.

The Department is in the process of implementing its response now, addressing several areas in the near term, including:

• Improving coordination, funding, and operations of efforts to combat MMIP and human trafficking;

• Enhancing research to better trace the underlying causes of MMIP and human trafficking, to reduce barriers to accessing resources, and to identify data sharing opportunities with healthcare systems;

• Improving access to funding aligned with Tribes' needs;

• Developing guidance on the effective use of the media and social media to engage the public when someone is reported missing;

• Improving communications with families of victims or missing people; and

• Working with a multi-jurisdictional working group to address factors that lead people, particularly young people, to voluntarily go missing.

Addressing Violent Crime and the Fentanyl Crisis in Indian Country

As noted in the joint response to the NIAC, research suggests that certain public safety challenges faced by many American Indian and Alaska Native communities - including disproportionate violence against women, families, and children; substance use; drug trafficking; and labor and sex trafficking - can influence the rates of missing American Indian and Alaska Native people.

Further, fentanyl poisoning and overdose deaths are the leading cause of opioid deaths throughout the United States, including Indian county, where drug-related overdose death rates for Native Americans exceeds the national rate.

Therefore, federal law enforcement components are ramping up efforts to forge stronger partnerships with federal and Tribal law enforcement partners to address violent crime and the fentanyl crisis, which exposes already vulnerable communities to greater harm. For instance:

• In January, the U.S Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska announced that 53 people were charged following an investigation by a multi-jurisdictional task force into a transnational organized crime ring that targeted Alaska, allegedly trafficking kilograms of deadly drugs including fentanyl to rural Alaska Native communities and villages like Goodnews Bay and Tyonek, two communities with populations of under 200 people.

• Last year, the Justice Department increased funding to the FBI Safe Trails Task Forces to build on the success they have had in bringing together agencies, including Tribal police departments, to combat public safety threats, violent crime, and drug trafficking. The FBI has increased its investigative resources in some of the Indian Country field offices that were in most need of personnel.

• Last year, the FBI undertook Operation Not Forgotten, which surged more than 40 personnel, including agents, intelligence analysts, tactical specialists, and victim specialists, to 10 field offices, where they were able to supplement more than 200 pending investigations related to violence against indigenous women and children, with a focus on homicide, serious bodily injury, and physical and sexual child abuse. To date, there have been seven successful indictments. Special Agents identified four previously unidentified child victims and recovered one child victim. Numerous other cases were referred for federal or Tribal prosecutions based on these efforts.

• This year, the DEA has established liaisons with each of the FBI-led Safe Trails Task Forces. In addition, DEA is expanding Operation Overdrive to include partnering with Tribal law enforcement and community outreach specialists to reduce the harm caused by drugs and drug-related violence. Operation Overdrive utilizes a data-driven approach to identify hot spots of drug-related violence and drug-poisoning deaths across the country, in order to concentrate resources where criminal drug networks are causing the most harm. DEA's Operation Engage has facilitated programs for Tribal youth, focusing on increasing drug prevention and awareness.

• This coming August, the DEA will be holding their 7th annual training in partnership with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on drug enforcement in Tribal communities. This upcoming training will include a specific focus on fentanyl and certifying meeting participants in administering Narcan.

• The U.S. Marshals Service has developed a legislative proposal to formalize its role in enforcing Tribal violent felony arrest warrants that would expand a pilot launched last year where the Marshals served Tribal warrants at the request of, and in close coordination with, Tribal law enforcement and the Department's Office of Tribal Justice. This effort has successfully targeted extremely dangerous offenders.

• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently assigned a Special Agent/Certified Fire Investigator to the MMIP Initiative to conduct case reviews for each of the five regions. ATF's National Integrated Ballistic Identification Network (NIBIN) and Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGIC) are used as an investigative resource for MMIP cases involving the criminal use of a firearm.

• In addition to coordinating our enforcement efforts, the Justice Department is also focused on supporting education and awareness efforts, as well as prevention, treatment, and recovery. The Bureau of Justice Assistance has provided training sessions for Tribal law enforcement, judges, and public safety personnel on our shared work to address fentanyl poisoning, including on the use of Narcan for fentanyl overdoses.

Accessing Justice Department Resources

Over the past year, the Department awarded $268 million in grants to help enhance Tribal justice systems and strengthen law enforcement responses. These awards have also gone toward improving the handling of child abuse cases, combating domestic and sexual violence, supporting Tribal youth programs, and strengthening victim services in Tribal communities.

For additional information about the Justice Department's efforts to address the MMIP crisis, please visit the MMIP section of the Tribal Safety and Justice website.

Click here for more information about reporting or identifying missing persons.

 

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