Laguna Pueblo woman, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland has announced the creation of Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) which will investigate missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The unit, announced early this month, will sit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) and will provide cross-department and interagency work.

According to the National Crime Information Centre (NCIC) approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native people are registered as missing within the United States.

There have also been approximately 2,700 cases of murder and non-negligent homicide of American Indian and Alaska Native people reported to the Federal Government’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

“Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

“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 prioritise these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families.”

Families of missing Indigenous women in the United States. Photo Supplied.

The announcement builds upon the work of the Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives: Operation Lady Justice (OLJ) which was launched in 2019.

The  MMU will support OLJ by creating new leadership positions which aim to support stakeholder collaboration, continued policy development, and continued investigation including the coordination of services with families of victims.

Many cases of missing and murdered people remain unsolved due to a lack of resources, the MMU will work to resolve unsolved cases alongside Tribal groups, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) workers and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers.

The cross-department powers of the MMU will allow the unit to enhance the Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and will enable to creation of strategic partnerships with other missing persons units.

“Whether it’s a missing family member or a homicide investigation, these efforts will be all hands-on deck,” Secretary Haaland said.

“We are fully committed to assisting Tribal communities with these investigations, and the MMU will leverage every resource available to be a force-multiplier in preventing these cases from becoming cold case investigations.”

By Rachael Knowles