Cabinet Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, Creates Unit for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

Cabinet Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, Creates Unit for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

Bianca Schnerre, Writer

First Indigenous Cabinet Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, has created a missing and murdered unit to investigate missing or murdered native people. On April 1, Haaland announced the formation of the new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. The MMU is intended to help put the full weight of the federal government into investigating these cases and marshal law enforcement resources across federal agencies and throughout Indigenous country. When talking about the problem Secretary Haaland said “Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades. Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated.” When talking about what the unit was intended to do Haaland said, “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.”

In 2019 there was a task force created named the Operation Lady Justice (OLJ) to pursue the unsolved cases of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. This new announcement will build on that work through designated new leadership, support positions, a Unit Chief responsible for stakeholder collaboration, continued policy development, and overall performance of the unit according to DOI News. Additionally to reviewing unsolved cases, the MMU will immediately start working with Trial, BIA, and FBI investigators on active missing and murdered investigations.

Indigenous communities have been trying to raise awareness to the growing rate of missing and murdered people, and specifically native women. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement is a recent movement that has been circulating primarily around Canada and the U.S. to bring awareness to the high amount of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women aged 10 to 24, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute. Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than any other ethnicities, a staggering statistic. According to Native Womens Wilderness the majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land and due to the lack of communication between state, local, and tribal law enforcement it is difficult to begin the investigation process.