A year after Mary Johnson’s disappearance, federal officials are finally acting on America’s missing Indigenous people crisis

Johnson, who was 39 years old, a registered A native of the Tulalip Tribes, he was last seen in the reserve on November 25, 2020.

Although family members posted flyers, put up a billboard on the local highway, and the FBI offered a reward for the information, Johnson, like many other missing Indigenous women in the United States, was never found.

“At this point, we’re information driven, any information we get is followed up, but it’s hard to find leads as we go along,” said Wayne Shaquille, an investigator sergeant with the Tulalip Tribal Police Department.

For years, families and activists have called on authorities to direct more attention and resources to cases involving missing and murdered Aboriginal women, arguing that their cases are often ignored or dismissed. Federal and state officials recently publicly acknowledged the existence of a “crisis of violence” against Native Americans and have launched efforts to address it, but advocates say their response is inadequate.

said Anita Lucchesi, executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, an organization that has been scheduling cases of missing and murdered Native Americans for several years.
Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Interior, and Homeland Security, to develop a strategy within 240 days to address this “crisis of violence” against Native Americans.

“For too long, justice has been elusive for many Native American victims, survivors, and families. The complexities of criminal jurisdiction and resource constraints have left many grievances unaddressed,” Biden said of the order.

The president also said, “The previous executive action did not bring about sufficient changes to reverse the epidemic.”

Data from the National Crime Information Center showed that nearly 5,300 American Indian and Alaska Native girls and women were reported missing last year. Of these, 578 “active” cases were reported at the end of the year.

Advocates and experts say these figures are not comprehensive, and a number of groups, such as the Sovereign Bodies Institute, have taken it upon themselves to collect the data as a way to raise awareness and hold law enforcement agencies accountable.

Lucchesi, a Cheyenne scion, says the main issue fueling this crisis is the lack of empathy for victims from both community members and law enforcement.

“Families still have the same needs they did two and five years ago,” she said. “Law enforcement authorities continue to ignore them. Cases remain unresolved and violence continues.”

Federal officials step up their efforts

The issue of missing and murdered Aboriginals is now in the spotlight, with federal officials announcing measures to bolster resources to address it.

The Department of Justice said Tuesday it will allocate $800,000 to the National Missing and Unknown System (NamUs), to provide outreach, investigative support and forensic services for cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice will allocate more than $90 million in grants to launch a commission dedicated to addressing the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous peoples.

President Joe Biden last week signed an executive order to help improve public safety and justice for Native Americans.

“The Department of Justice has already begun to pilot these plans, which are driven by community needs, led by tribes and supported by federal law enforcement. We hope to provide meaningful responses to the issues of missing or murdered Aboriginals and to serve as an example during the Tribal Nations Summit at the White House last week,” Garland said during the White House Tribal Nations Summit last week. plan to move forward.

Biden’s order and the Justice Department’s financial commitments come just weeks after the Government Accountability Office released an analysis of the federal response to this crisis of violence. The report notes that federal officials have not done enough to address the problem and have failed to fully implement two laws designed to combat it.
The legislation, the Savannah Act and the Invisible Act, was enacted in October 2020 and requires the Departments of Justice and the Interior to take various actions to increase coordination, training, and data collection. The report shows that the agencies have taken some initial steps, but have missed legal deadlines.

While there are four federal databases with some information on missing and murdered Aboriginals, the report’s authors did not find comprehensive data on the crisis, preventing federal officials from knowing the full scope of the problem.

Deb Haaland creates unit to investigate Aboriginal killings and disappearances
Within a month after his confirmation, Home Secretary Deb Haaland took steps to address the crisis of violence against Aboriginal people.

In April, it announced the creation of a new unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to “help put the full weight of the federal government” to investigate cases and coordinate resources between federal agencies and the Indian state.

Statewide, lawmakers in Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah, and several other states in the past three years have launched task forces or established crime-fighting bureaus against Native Americans.

In Oklahoma, Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law Ida earlier this year to secure federal funding for the creation of a local Liaison Office for Missing and Dead Natives.

The legislation is named after 29-year-old Ida Bird, a native of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, who disappeared in 2015 and has never been found.

Lucchesi and other advocates welcome awareness of the growing problem, but remain skeptical about whether their efforts will help overcome the myriad of challenges families face when a loved one goes missing, including judicial and bureaucratic issues that often slow investigations.

“What is the point of creating (new) initiatives to address this crisis when laws that have already been passed are not being implemented?” Lucchesi said.

CNN’s Christina Kariga contributed to this report.

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