One Year After Mary Johnson’s Disappearance, Federal Officials Finally Act On The Missing Indigenous Peoples Crisis In America

Johnson, then 39 years old and enrolled Citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, was last seen on the reserve on November 25, 2020.

Even though family members posted flyers, put up a notice board on a local freeway, and a reward for the information was offered by the FBI, Johnson, like many other missing Indigenous women in the United States , has not been found.

“At this point we are information driven, all the information we get is being tracked, but the leads are getting harder and harder to find as we go along,” said Wayne Schakel, detective sergeant in the department. Tulalip tribal police station.

For years, families and activists have demanded that authorities devote more attention and resources to cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women, arguing that their cases are often ignored or dismissed. Federal and state officials recently publicly acknowledged that there was a “crisis of violence” against Native Americans and have launched efforts to address it, but advocates say their response is not sufficient.

” Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed for our communities. The rate of violence has not decreased. The prosecution rate has not increased, ”said Annita Lucchesi, Executive Director of the Institute of Sovereign Bodies, an organization that identifies 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, Home Affairs and Homeland Security, to create a 240-day strategy to deal with this “crisis of violence “against Native Americans.

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

The president also said that “the previous executive action failed to achieve changes sufficient to reverse the epidemic”.

Nearly 5,300 Native American and Alaska Native girls and women were reported missing last year, data from the National Crime Information Center shows. Of these cases, 578 were declared “active” at the end of the year.

Lawyers and experts say these figures are not exhaustive and that a number of groups, such as the Sovereign Bodies Institute, have decided to collect data in order to raise awareness and empower law enforcement.

Lucchesi, who is a descendant of the Cheyenne tribe, says a key issue fueling this crisis is the lack of empathy for victims from community members and law enforcement.

“Families still have the same needs as two years ago, five years ago. The police are still ignoring them. Cases are still unresolved and violence continues to occur,” a- she declared.

Federal officials redouble their efforts

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

The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it will allocate $ 800,000 to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), to provide outreach, investigation and forensic services in cases involving Native Americans. and the natives of Alaska.

Last week Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would spend more than $ 90 million in grants to launch a committee dedicated to addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

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

“The Department of Justice has already started piloting these plans, which are driven by community needs, led by tribes and supported by federal law enforcement. We hope that we advance meaningful responses to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people and serve as a blueprint for moving forward, ”Garland said at the White House Tribal Nations Summit last week.

Biden’s order and the Justice Department’s financial commitments come just weeks after the The Government Accountability Office has published an analysis of the federal response to this crisis of violence. The report says federal officials have not done enough to address the problem and have failed to fully implement two laws aimed at combating it.
The legislation, the Savannah Law and the Non-Invisible Law, was enacted in October 2020 and requires the Ministries of Justice and Home Affairs to take various measures to increase coordination, training and data collection. The report shows that the agencies took some initial steps, but missed statutory deadlines.

While there are four federal databases that contain information on missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, the report’s authors could not find complete data on the crisis, preventing federal officials from knowing the full extent. of the problem.

Deb Haaland creates unit to investigate Indigenous killings and disappearances
Less than a month after being confirmed, Home Secretary Deb Haaland took action to address this crisis of violence against indigenous peoples.

In April, she 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 country.

At the state level, lawmakers in Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah, and several other states have, over the past three years, launched task forces or established offices to tackle Native American crime. .

In Oklahoma, Governor Kevin Stitt signed Ida’s law earlier this year to secure federal funding to create a local office of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Liaison Office.

The legislation is named after Ida Beard, 29, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, who went missing in 2015 and has not been found.

Lucchesi and other advocates welcome the increased awareness of the problem, but remain skeptical whether their efforts will help overcome a myriad of challenges families face when a loved one goes missing, including competence and bureaucracy that often slow down investigations.

“What is the point of creating (new) initiatives to deal with this crisis when the laws they have already adopted are not being applied?” Lucchesi said.

CNN’s Christina Carrega contributed to this report.

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