2 UP Indian tribes join forces with federal government to develop response to missing persons and murder cases

Two Indian tribes from the Upper Peninsula will work with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to create better response and investigation protocols in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

The pilot program is one of many in six US states – Michigan, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Oregon, Alaska and Montana – to develop coordinated response plans for missing persons or homicides.

Agencies responding to such reports can be complicated depending on the tribal affiliations of the missing person, where they disappeared, the tribal affiliation of victims and suspects in a homicide and whether the incident occurred or not on a reserve, said Bryan Newland. , president of the Indian community of Bay Mills.

Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – two from Michigan 12 Indian tribes recognized by the federal government – will work with the United States Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michigan State Police and local law enforcement associations to develop protocols for investigating these cases.

“Due to the nature of our population and our proximity to the Canadian border, it is more important than ever that we have things ready for use for potential human trafficking and missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.” said Newland, who is also a lawyer. focused on Indian law.

The group will focus on a coordinated response with respect to law enforcement, community outreach, public communication and victim services, the task force said in a statement. The group started meeting in October and hopes to have their first report ready in the first quarter of 2021.

“Everyone recognizes the sensitivity and importance of these cases and realizes that, in Michigan in particular, several agencies and jurisdictions need to work together,” said US Attorney Matthew Schneider.

The community of Sault Tribe and Bay Mills has already increased the capacity of its judicial and police units and entered into mutual aid agreements to address violence against women, said Dr Aaron Payment, president of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of the Chippewa Indians. This project is an extension of these efforts.

“After September 11, we worked as a unified team to ensure public safety, including full tabletop exercises,” Payment said. “I envision our collaboration around MMIP as a similar critical incident exercise and relationship to deal with what is emerging as an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people. “

a 2018 Associated Press survey For years, tribes have been unable to directly access money from a federal crime victim support program, even as federal data has shown more than half of Native American women are victims of violence. sexual or domestic. And, on some reservations, Native American women have been killed at a rate 10 times the national average.

Experts at the time blamed the lack of funding and resources for police services and the jurisdictional gaps between local, federal and tribal law enforcement.

“What we’ve seen across the country and really across the continent are thousands of cases of Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing without resolution,” Newland said. “Much of this has to do with the maze of jurisdictions we have to deal with.”

That same year, in 2018, Congress passed the Savanna’s Act, which ordered the Department of Justice to develop, revise, and review law enforcement protocols related to missing or murdered Native Americans.

The law included requirements for better statistics on missing or murdered indigenous peoples, better law enforcement training, tribal outreach and education on registering missing Indians in the national missing persons system, and unidentified and the development of “regionally appropriate response guidelines”.

In 2019, President Donald Trump launched Operation Lady Justice to address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, and United States Attorney General William Barr invested $ 1.5 million to hire Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Coordinators in 11 states.

In July, former FBI agent Joel Postma was appointed Michigan MMIP coordinator, giving him the responsibility to act as an intermediary between Michigan’s 12 Indian tribes and federal, local and state law enforcement.

Michigan has fewer missing and murdered natives than other states participating in the program, Postma and Newland said. But the state was still chosen for the pilot program because Michigan has more enrolled tribal members than other parts of the country, Postma said.

Based on figures obtained from an FBI database in September 2018, the Associated Press found 633 open missing persons cases for Native American women, who made up 0.4% of the US population but 0, 7% of cases overall.

About 70% of those enrolled in a Michigan tribe live on tribal trust land, which also complicates jurisdictional issues when a member goes missing, Postma said.

“The first two hours are the most important and there is a set of necessary protocols or guidelines that would and certainly improve the knowledge base for law enforcement to respond in this short period,” Postma said.

The Indian community of Bay Mills and the Indian community of Sault Ste. The Marie tribe of the Chippewa Indians, both located in the eastern Upper Peninsula, have unique risk factors for disappearance or human trafficking as they are located near Canada and are owns casinos, Newland said.

Although the tribes do not have a high number of missing or murdered people, the community does struggle with domestic violence issues at times, which again poses complicated jurisdictional questions, Newland said.

A misdemeanor between two tribal members could be dealt with in a tribal court, while a felony between two non-Indian guests would likely be brought to state court, Newland said. But questions arise when a crime involves a non-Indian and a tribal member, or when a tribal member is involved in an off-reserve crime.

“It’s a mess, which makes these things very difficult to solve and requires this type of working group,” Newland said.

The aim of the task force is to work with individual tribes to develop individualized response protocols based on the needs of a community, Postma said. For example, while Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie could contact the Mackinac Bridge Authority immediately in the case of a missing person, the Gun Lake Tribe in western Michigan could have a different protocol.

“These guidelines depend very much on the contribution of the tribes,” Postma said.

“In February, we hope to report on the basis of the pilot group on what we have accomplished,” he said. “Then I will contact the other ten tribes and hope to have met them all within the next year. “

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