WEBCAST: Missing and Murdered (MMIP) WATCH
National Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day Event
Deb: I'm Secretary Deb Haaland at I'm honored to join you from the ancestral homelands of the Anacostia and Piscataway people on what President Biden has proclaimed as National Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. I wish we didn't need to be here. 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. But we are here. And I want to use today to shine a light on the national crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples and give space to others to share the work they are doing on this issue. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, but the MMIP crisis is one that communities have faced since the dawn of colonization. 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. It is heartbreaking to know that our loved ones are at an increased risk of disappearing without warning, leaving families and communities devastated. I want to extend my gratitude to the organizers, advocates, native women who have been shedding light on MMIP crisis for decades. People who have had an empty chair at their kitchen tables, loved ones who tirelessly searched or their relatives, service providers who hear the heartbreaking stories of family members of the missing. I want you to know that I see you and I stand with you. In our first year, there is much the Biden-Harris administration has done to take this issue seriously. As many of you know, last year, I announce the formation of a new missing and murdered unit within the Bureau of Indian affairs office of Justice services to provide leadership and direction across departmental and interagency work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska natives. The MMU is marshaling resources across agencies and throughout Indian country to focus on this crisis. Since the launch ofMMU, the department has built up personnel and increased infrastructure capacity by launching new offices. Today, 17 BIA offices located throughout the nation have at least one agent dedicated to solving missing and murder cases for American Indians and Alaska natives. In December, the BIA announced on lots of its new website dedicated to solving missing and murder cases in Indian country. The website is bia.gov/mmu. Bia.gov/mmu. The site is an important tool to help law enforcement, families, and communities to share critical information about missing and murdered individuals that can help the MMU solve cases and give closure to families. The website showcases individual missing and murdered case profiles that can be quickly shared via social media and other digital media to raise visibility of victims. It also provides multiple pathways to submit important tips and other case information that may help investigators with detection or investigation of an offense committed in Indian country. The MMU has enabled the Department to expand its collaborative efforts with other agencies such as working to enhance the DOJ's national missing and unidentified persons system. Staff are also developing strategic partnerships with additional stakeholders such as the FBI, behavioral analysis units, FBI forensic laboratories , U.S. marshals missing child unit, and the National Center for missing and exploited children. This unit and interior will continue to engage in collaborative efforts with tribal, federal, and state stakeholders to ensure accurate data and enhance community outreach. The MMU is a critical tool in our work to address this crisis, and today, we announce steps for another. In Congress, the Not Invisible Act now in partnership with the Justice Department and with extensive engagement with tribes and other stakeholders, we are putting that law into action. Today, our agencies announce the membership of the new Not Invisible Act Commission which we formed the last year. For the first time, the interior and Justice Department will be guided by an advisory committee composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals, and most importantly, survivors. This commission will ensure that we hear the voices of those who are most impacted by this issue. It includes diverse experience, backgrounds, and geographies to provide balance once of use. The commission will hold hearings, take estimate, and -- testimonies, and receive evidence to develop recommendations for the federal government to combat violent crimes against indigenous people. The missing and murdered indigenous peoples crisis is centuries in the making, and it will take a focused effort and time to unravel the many threads that contribute to the alarming rates. I'm grateful to those of you who rang the alarm and gave a voice to the missing. My heart goes out to the families of loved ones who were impacted by violence. We will keep working to address this issue and together, I believe we will provide justice for survivors and families. And that I will turn the floor over to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who will share recorded remarks for today's event.
Deb: We are so grateful to Deputy Attorney General Monaco and the Department of Justice for their partnership as we move the Not Invisible Act Commission forward. Now, we will hear from Fawn Sharp president for the National Congress of American Indians, and fierce advocate for indigenous communities. Resident, the floor is yours.
Fawn: thank you for inviting me to join this important event to highlight missing or murdered indigenous people across our country. Due to the limitation that the federal government unjustly placed on tribal nations and our ability to hold non-Indians accountable in a tribal justice system. The violence grew because the federal government has chronically failed in its responsibility to properly fund tribal public safety and justice needs. Often our relatives go missing and/or murdered with little to no response from law enforcement. In the year 2018, broken promises report, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported that although overall funding for public safety in Indian country has increased, it doesn't even come close to being the public safety needs in Indian country. In 2017, BIA estimated only 21% of law-enforcement, 49% of detention centers, and 3% of tribal court needs, and the commission noted the failure to provide sufficient federal funding undermines the ability of tribal governments to provide remote justice and public safety for our citizens. Having the authority to hold perpetrators accountable is an important first step, but tribal nations cannot follow through to hold bad actors accountable without adequate and consistent funding for tribal justice systems to support our courts, judges, police, prosecutors, public defenders, victim advocates, and array of victim services. Tribal leaders have continued to share the lack of security and sustainable funding has prevented us from holding perpetrators accountable, helping survivors establishing preventive services in our communities, and instituting alternatives to incarceration. In addition to securing sustainable and mandatory public safety and justice funding, our government partners must effectively communicate and coordinate both in funding and information sharing. We must take bold steps to fully restore tribal nations inherent authority to prosecute bad actors and to ensure that the federal government provides steady, equitable, and nondiscretionary funding directly to tribal nations for their public safety needs. Our federal partners must effectively communicate and coordinate among themselves and with tribal nations to ensure our people no longer fall through the cracks. Thank you so much, Secretary, for your fierce leadership in bringing us together to celebrate yet another historic and long-overdue milestone of success during your tender as Secretary. I look forward to the rest of our important discussion today. Thank you.
Deb: Thank you so much, President Sharp. You are absolutely right, resources to address this crisis have been chronically underfunded for too long. We will be looking to the Not Invisible Act to guide us on where the federal dollars can be aimed most effectively. President Sharp this year, we made money mental strides with the 2022 reauthorization of the violence against women act. In your opinion, what steps should we be taking next to continue combating the MMIP crisis?
Fawn: Thank you for the question, Secretary Haaland. The importance and magnitude of the tribal provisions that were passed in 2022 cannot be overstated David it is truly a significant a compliment that we must celebrate. When it seeks to fully acknowledge our inherent tribal sovereignty and restore our tribal jurisdiction. We must also make sure that 2022 is successfully implemented so it can be in permitted across Indian country. The federal government -- Deb: President Sharp? This is such an important message. We will give her a half a second to see if she is able to reconnect. President Sharp, your voice is incredibly important. I'm so grateful for your leadership at -- on MMIP. Your leadership is invaluable. Now I want to turn the floor to the executive director of national indigenous women's resource Center. Lucy?
Lucy: Needing my camera turned on from the host. I'll go ahead and get started. Good afternoon. I want to thank Secretary Haaland for the invitation to be a part of this esteemed panel and the long-awaited announcement of the Not Invisible Act Commission members. The promise that the commission holds is such an important one and we really look forward to the work the commission and its members will do to move us toward a more safe and just reality for our native relatives. All the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is just recently getting national attention, the MMIW crisis is not new. It was born in colonization and is a continuation of past federal laws and policies that were intended to terminate Indian nations. One example that is similarly now getting national attention is the legacy of Indian boarding schools. As more and more horrifying findings are being made at Indian boarding schools across North America, we can clearly see the connection between these policies and the thousands of missing and murdered Indian children. It is important that as we move forward to address MMIW that we in include addressing the full spectrum of violence against native women included domestic violence, sexual assaults, stalking, and sex trafficking, because they are off and acted and all born in colonization. Surely, the federal government has an important role in improving the response to MMIW. For one, because the violence has ignored federal laws and policies and their lasting impact today, but two and more importantly, the federal government has an ongoing trust response ability to Indian tribes. To move forward, we must demand real and meaningful coordination from all federal agencies beyond the Department of the Interior to also include the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. But the federal government cannot do it alone, nor should it. As the Not Invisible Act Commission membership shows, we need a broad coalition to create true social change. As we move forward with implementation of the Not Invisible Act, Savannah's act, reauthorization of 2018, we must demand coordination and real buy-in beyond the federal government to include state and local governments with leadership coming from our tribal governments on the sovereign nations because our tribal governments are in the best position to ensure safety for their citizens. Most importantly we must ensure families and survivors of our centered at all times as their experience as will be the guideposts how to improve the response to MMIW. I look forward to the Not Invisible Act Commission's work and the recommendations that will come out of that work, but more importantly, I look forward to real, meaningful implementation of those recommendations. Thank you again, Secretary Haaland, for your dedication and moving the commission and the work to end violence against native women forward in your tenures so far. Thank you.
Deb: Thank you so much, Director Simpson. You are absolutely right. Coordination with tribal communities and families is paramount to effectively undress violence against native people and the MMIP crisis is an extension of that. In addition to improving the response to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples, what else can everyone do to help?
Lucy: We need to be looking at prevention, move beyond just improving the response to missing and murdered relatives after they go missing, when we need to move toward prevention. Native communities have countless strength that we can build upon to create a more holistic approach to safety, so we need to really center our indigenous protections we have from our own communities. It will require leadership from our tribal governments, increased investment in our infrastructures which means more resources. Infrastructure is key to reducing crime and safety generally. An important place to start is ensuring safe housing. The ongoing and historical crisis of MMIW is reflective of the severe shortage of safe housing and shelter disparity that is experienced by native survivors of violence. Safe housing is a foundational aspect of prevention. That is why at MIWRC we have launched a resource center, the stars resource Center, the center staff has greeted a platform of housing and shelter as a nonnegotiable human right. This new center is going to be a key part of our prevention focus in regards to MMIW and other forms of gender-based violence. You can follow us on social media @safehousingforall for updates.
Deb: Thank you so much, director Simpson. I want to thank you and the entire national indigenous resource women's center for the work you do every day to support families and survivors. Thank you so much for being here with us today.
Lucy: Thank you.
Deb: I am now very proud to bring president of the Bay Mills Indian community, Whitney Gravelle to the screen to share another facet of this crisis. President, you have the floor.
Whitney: Thank you, Secretary Haaland for the honor to join today for the announcement of the Not Invisible Act Commission . The Indian community was one of the first tribal nations in the United States to complete a missing and murdered indigenous people tribal community response plan. In preparation for the limitation of this plan, we learned firsthand that improving safety in the day-to-day lives of our tribal citizens in Indian country is the responsibility of a broad range of justice institutions both within and outside our reservation boundaries. It requires a strong element of cooperation as improving safety this estates the involvement of social services, public health providers, pop -- tribal and nontribal policymakers, federal and state officials, residents of tribal communities among others. It also requires a broad range of education. As the current spectrum of violence against indigenous women is intertwined with systematic barriers embedded within state and federal governments. Through the efforts of many women, including those here today, state and local law enforcement agencies are becoming more aware about the issues surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women. But they do not yet understand the complex jurisdictional schemes that exist for tribes in the United beats. They do not yet understand that tribal nations have been denied that ability to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators, and that a lack of resources in peas investigation and help from the federal government, which then prevents tribes and tribal nation from providing native women, indigenous women protection and the help they deserve. Although we were able to create strategic partnerships within tribal and state law enforcement agencies in the developing of our community response plan, the developing of that plan did not come without many lessons regarding the gaping holes and information systems data collection, and resources available to respond to any case of missing or murdered. Time is a critical element for effective response. It is not days or even hours but rather only minutes that law enforcement has two save someone. Minutes to alert the appropriate agencies. Minutes to investigate and detain or arrest. Minutes to identify an individual missing, or experiencing violence, so that they can be found before they are lost forever. One important tool that could be developed is the creation of a national notification system to close the gap in response to time for tribal law enforcement officials. The Indian community and our response plan has created a partnership with the state of Michigan that would allow tribal nations access to the AMBER Alert notification system. But that criterion needs to be modified to allow for more immediate use by tribal law enforcement rather than communication to state law enforcement. Furthermore, the AMBER Alert notification system cannot be utilized for adults, which is a majority of missing and murdered cases. A national notification system would also be instrumental in helping tribal nations deal with commercial business operations, extraction industries, and large infrastructure projects where tribal nations are more vulnerable for targeted acts of violence. We must include implementation of that basic human right, and elements of human security in all aspects of all industry that touches Indian country. National notification, tribal notification system should be a part of the not invisible act commission final recommendation. I am so looking forward to the work that that team, the commission will be completing. I want to say thank you, Secretary Haaland. for your work in protecting indigenous women everywhere.
Deb: Thank you so much, President Gravelle. The insight you have about the international pieces of this crisis highlight where the Not Invisible Act Commission is a multi agency mission. I would love for you to describe some solutions that your community has identified for MMIP issues residing on an international border?
Whitney: Yes, if we didn't think that missing and murdered indigenous peoples crisis was complicated enough, there is a fourth. Involving international barriers that must be taken into consideration as well. Tribal homelands were artificially divided when the United States, Mexican, and Canadian borders were formed. It cut off indigenous peoples from their traditional homelands, relatives, sacred sites. Currently, more than two dozen tribal nations have land within approximately 200 miles of international borders, and six tribal nations actually have borders that straddle international borderlines. However, we know that borders do not stop crimes and that barriers are invisible as we conduct ourselves. So when a crime occurs that ends up traversing international boundaries, directly adjacent or nearby tribal reservations, tribal law enforcement officers have no authority. State law enforcement officers have no authority. In instances like this, allowing deputation agreements or memorandums of understanding to encompass communication strategies in identifying points of contact are essential in order to strengthen cooperation between all law enforcement agencies involved. Presently, this is done by Indian community on an informal basis through our traditional relationships with first Nations that reside across the border. However, the Not Invisible Act Commission stand in a unique position to form that partnership with the Government of Canada, with the government of Mexico, to create international memorandums, international notification systems and commitments, so that we all work together to resolve the crisis of missing and murdered persons across all of turtle Island. It is my hope as well but that will be a part of the committee's final recommendations.
Deb: Thank you, President Gravelle. We appreciate so much your strong voice and everything you have brought to the conversation. Thank you for joining us today.
Whitney: Thank you. I just want to take a moment to recognize that we are embracing each other today in healing, recognize those grandmothers and mothers and daughters, sisters, aunties so that the injustices they have suffered will not continue in the future.
Deb: Thank you very much well said. I am so grateful to have you here. Thank you. I would like to go back to President Sharp. Thank you for rejoining us. We understand you may need to keep your camera off. We recognize the infrastructure needs of Indian country in real time. Thank you for getting back on with us. Please continue.
Fawn: Thank you. And that is a case in point on broadband connection. I am here in the homelands of these clownish people, and even a distance from Seattle, we have challenges in Indian country. The last point I wanted to make, the departments of interior justice, health and Homeland Security must coordinate, collaborate, and communicate among themselves and with tribal nations. Each of these agencies must have a meaningful hand in the approach to address the MMIP crisis or what will not be effective. We must pass key legislation such as the family violence and prevention services act to fun tribal domestic violence shelters and preventative services and pass a permanent 10% tribal nations set aside from the crime victims fund. We must ensure our federal partners fully fund tribal public safety and justice needs, and that this funding is transitioning away from competitive grants, to being steady, equitable, and nondiscretionary. This starts with the inclusion of these priorities and the president's budget and ends with Congress appropriate that funding. Finally, we must approach the MMIP crisis from a holistic perspective and listen to tribal leaders, survivors, family members, on what are the best ways to address this issue in our communities. We have lost way too many relatives over the years to this crisis. Today's proclamation is important moments to celebrate. This is also a time to continue forward on this positive and powerful momentum to finally draw a line in the sand to stop this crisis and stand together to say no more. This crisis will no doubt end with our generation. Thank you.
Deb: Thank you so much, President Sharp. Very grateful to have you here today. And I want to thank all of our panelists today for joining us, lending their important perspectives, experience, and expertise to the day's discussion, and for the many years of dedicated advocacy all of you have given to the MMIP crisis. Thank you. As we continue our partnership with the Department of Justice, the newly announced members of the Not Invisible Act Commission , we will make strides in addressing violence against indigenous people. We have a long road ahead, but it takes time to address the root causes of violence against indigenous people, which are centuries in the making. It is not my goal to put a Band-Aid on this crisis, but rather, address and bring the impacts of colonialism, objectification, marginalization that contribute to the missing and murdered indigenous peoples crisis. That takes time, but I know that with everyone working together, and the advisement of the Not Invisible Act Commission, we can do this. Thank you all so much for joining us. Stay safe.