Interior Secretary Haaland Establishes Unit To Track Missing And Murdered American Indians And Alaska Natives

April 2, 2021

By Kadambari M. Wade

On April 1, 15 days after she assumed office as the 54th United States Secretary of the Interior, Secretary Deb Haaland announced the formation of a new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS). The objective of the MMU is to provide leadership and direction for cross-departmental and interagency work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

“Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades,” said Secretary Haaland, who became the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet Secretary on March 16. “Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated. The new MMU unit will provide the resources and leadership to prioritize these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families.”  

A Department of the Interior (DOI) news release stated that approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) throughout the U.S., and approximately 2,700 cases of murder and non-negligent homicide offenses have been reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.  

The release added that Thursday’s announcement was looking to build on the work begun by the establishment of Operation Lady Justice (OLJ). Operation Lady Justice was a two-year task force established on Nov. 26, 2019, by Executive Order (EO) 13898, with a concentration on two areas: Missing persons cases and cases of murder related specifically to American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

On Feb. 1, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published the first of two issues of their Department of Justice Journal of Federal Law and Practice focused on missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. This was part of a collaboration between the DOJ’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative and the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (OLJ).

According to statistics from the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ), more than two in five American Indian and Alaska Native female victims reported being physically injured, and almost half reported needing services, including medical care and legal services, which more than a third (38%) were unable to access. In the U.S. and Canada, an average of 40% of the women who were victims of sex trafficking identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native. Homicide is reportedly No. 3 on the list of causes of death of American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24, and the fifth leading cause of death for indigenous women between 25 and 34 years. 

You can read more about Operation Lady Justice, and our in-depth analysis of the data on Missing And Murdered Indigenous Persons here.