Interior Secretary Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Protesters arrested after sit-in at Interior Department Obama to attend Glasgow climate summit MORE, the U.S.’s first Indigenous cabinet secretary, will create a unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to investigate missing and murdered Native Americans, the department announced Thursday evening.
There are some 1,500 American Indian and Alaska natives in the National Crime Information Center’s database of missing persons, while about 2,700 murders and nonnegligent homicides have been reported to the federal Uniform Crime Reporting program.
Native American women in particular are the victims of murder at over 10 times the national average, according to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Homicides are the No. 3 cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native girls and women ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The federal government formed a task force on the issue in 2019 to pursue such cases. Haaland said the new unit will expand on that work and establish a unit chief position to develop policy for the unit. The unit will review unsolved cases and work with tribal, BIA and FBI investigators on active cases as well, according to the department.
“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,” Haaland said in a statement. “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.”
Haaland said in her confirmation hearings earlier this year that the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women would be a major priority for her at Interior.
“Whether it’s a missing family member or a homicide investigation, these efforts will be all hands-on deck,” Haaland added Thursday. “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.”
The announcement comes as Indigenous people have expressed hope that Haaland at the helm of the department will mean increased attention on issues specifically affecting the community. Both Haaland and Democratic allies in Congress have emphasized the value placed on environmental stewardship and conservation in Native communities.