Energy & Environment

Haaland: Government ‘ready to solve’ crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans

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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland expressed optimism about the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ recently-announced Missing and Murdered Unit on a press call Tuesday, saying the federal government was “ready to solve this crisis.”

“For too long this issue has been swept under the rug,” Haaland, the nation’s first indigenous Cabinet secretary, said Tuesday. She cited statistics indicating more than 90 percent of indigenous women experience violence, including more than half involving an intimate partner.

“I believe we are at an inflection point,” Haaland said. “We have a president who has promised to prioritize this issue and ensure that Native American leaders have a seat at the table.”

Haaland said the unit was part of a “whole-of-government” approach to addressing issues, saying that “for too long, Indian issues were relegated to tribal offices within federal agencies.”

“Every federal agency is taking our commitment to strengthening tribal agency and self-government seriously,” she added. “We’ll keep working until our people stop going missing without a trace.”

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community, told reporters the new unitwill allow us to coordinate our resources across the nation,” enabling the Bureau to focus its resources on both new and unsolved cases.

Haaland, asked how the unit would measure its success, said the department would prioritize closing unsolved cases.

“Right now there are people in this country who don’t know where their loved ones are,” she said. “We want to be able to answer that question, we want to make sure that folks have closure. We would measure it by how many unsolved cases we’re able to solve.”

The press call came the week after the department announced new orders to simplify the process of taking land into trust, the process under which the department holds ownership of land for either a tribe or individual tribe members.

Simplifying that process, Newland said, “clarifies the exercise of jurisdiction within the reservation.”

“When that jurisdiction is clarified and simple it makes the work of police officers and prosecutors so much easier [and] it makes it less confusing for judges to consider jurisdictional issues,” he said.

Tracey Toulou, the Department of Justice’s Director of the Office of Tribal Justice, said Haaland’s leadership was essential to making progress on the issue.

“I really can’t stress how important this moment is to have Secretary Haaland leading the Department of the Interior,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of really hard work ahead of us, this is a tragic topic… but I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been in my 20 years working in this area.”

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