Projects to focus on missing, murdered Indigenous peoples

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma and five other states will participate in pilot projects to better co-ordinate investigative efforts surrounding cases of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples, U.S. Attorneys Trent Shores and Brian Kuester announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice projects created protocols for federal, state and tribal investigative agencies to work together and with victims’ families when American Indian or Alaska Native jurisdictional boundaries are crossed, said Shores of the Northern District of Oklahoma.

The key, according to Shores, is developing a co-ordinated effort with different tribes and their individual cultures and practices.

“We know that Indian Country knows Indian Country best and tribal leaders and tribal citizens know best what will work for their community,” Shores said. “Too often we have tried to find a one size fits all” solution when what may work in Oklahoma does not apply in other states and regions.

The first pilot project will launch in Oklahoma and is joined by the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, whose Principal Chiefs, Chuck Hoskin, Jr. and David Hill said the project recognizes tribal sovereignty while helping protect their citizens.

“No matter what … reservation we call home we all have the same goal, public safety (and) a successful future for those residing in our state,” Hill said.

Shores said the project will focus on both missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, but in Oklahoma is likely to have greater impact on missing persons cases. Homicide cases, Shores said, often are well defined as to which agency has jurisdiction, but missing persons cases may not even involve a crime, such as when a person flees an abusive relationship.

Shores said similar projects are planned in Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon.

The U.S. Department of Justice last year launched a national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans that later expanded. The program includes $1.5 million to hire co-ordinators in 11 states, including Oklahoma.

An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how cases of missing and murdered Native Americans happen nationwide because many cases go unreported, others aren’t well documented and no government database specifically tracks them.

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