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Press Release

Justice Department Strengthens Efforts, Builds Partnerships to Address the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Michigan

U.S. Attorney Totten attends May 5th MMIP Awareness Day Event in Grand Rapids

          GRAND RAPIDS – U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten and the Justice Department joins its partners across the federal government, as well as people throughout American Indian and Alaska Native communities, in recognizing May 5, 2024, as National Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Awareness Day.

          “Today is a day of reflection and commitment as we remember the all-too-many victims of violence in our Tribal communities and the families and friends who are affected,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “The Justice Department’s work to address the MMIP crisis is a whole-of-department effort that takes many forms to strengthening the federal response to missing or murdered indigenous people. In the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan, we are committed to working with our federal, state, local, and Tribal partners to swiftly investigate these cases and secure justice.”

U.S. Attorney Mark Totten standing at a podium speaking at the MMIP Awareness Day Event

          U.S. Attorney Totten today participated in the 2024 March for MMIP at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids to bring awareness and educate the public on missing and murdered indigenous persons. The event was hosted by three local Potawatomi Tribes: Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP), Pokagon and Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band and all Natives and non-Native allies and advocates against violence.

          The U.S. Attorneys for the Western and Eastern Districts of Michigan respectively, appointed Joel Postma to serve as the MMIP Coordinator for the two districts (11 of the Tribes are in the Western District), conducting outreach with Tribal communities to understand the challenges revealed through past experience; coordinating with Tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement in the development of protocols and procedures for responding to and addressing MMIP; providing training and assistance; and promoting improved data collection and analyses throughout the state.

          In recognition of MMIP Awareness Day, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland highlighted ongoing efforts to tackle the MMIP and human trafficking crises in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and other pressing public safety challenges, like the fentanyl crisis, in Tribal communities.

          “There is still so much more to do in the face of persistently high levels of violence that Tribal communities have endured for generations, and that women and girls, particularly, have endured,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “In carrying out our work, we seek to honor those who are still missing, those who were stolen from their communities, and their loved ones who are left with unimaginable pain. Tribal communities deserve safety, and they deserve justice. This day challenges all of us at the Justice Department to double down on our efforts, and to be true partners with Tribal communities as we seek to end this crisis.”

          “The FBI remains unwavering in our pledge to work with our law enforcement partners to address the violence that has disproportionately harmed Tribal communities and families,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We will continue to prioritize our support of victims and will steadfastly pursue investigations into the crime impacting American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”

          “DEA’s top priority is protecting all communities from deadly drugs, like fentanyl, and drug related violent crime,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.  “We know that no community has been spared from these deadly threats and we are committed to keeping Tribal communities safe.”

Justice Department Prioritization of MMIP Cases

          Last July, the Justice Department announced the creation of the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Regional Outreach Program, which permanently places 10 attorneys and coordinators in five designated regions across the United States to aid in the prevention and response to missing or murdered Indigenous people. The five regions include the Northwest, Southwest, Great Plains, Great Lakes, and Southeast Regions. 

          The MMIP Regional Outreach Program prioritizes MMIP cases consistent with the Deputy Attorney General’s July 2022 directive to U.S. Attorneys’ offices promoting public safety in Indian country. The program fulfills the Justice Department’s promise to dedicate new personnel to MMIP consistent with Executive Order 14053, Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People, and the Department’s Federal Law Enforcement Strategy to Prevent and respond to Violence Against American Indians and Alaska Natives, Including to Address Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons issued in July 2022. 

Not Invisible Act Commission Response

          The Department’s work to respond to the MMIP crisis is a whole-of-department effort. In March, the Departments of Justice and the Interior released their joint response to the Not Invisible Act Commission’s recommendations on how to combat the missing or murdered Indigenous peoples (MMIP) and human trafficking crisis. The NIAC response, announced by Attorney General Garland during a visit to the Crow Nation, recognizes that more must be done across the federal government to resolve this longstanding crisis and support healing from the generational traumas that Indigenous peoples have endured throughout the history of the United States. 

Addressing Violent Crime and the Fentanyl Crisis in Indian Country

          As noted in the joint response to the NIAC, research suggests that certain public safety challenges faced by many American Indian and Alaska Native communities—including disproportionate violence against women, families, and children; substance abuse; drug trafficking; and labor and sex trafficking—can influence the rates of missing AI/AN persons.

          Further, fentanyl poisoning and overdose deaths are the leading cause of opioid deaths throughout the United States, including Indian county, where drug-related overdose death rates for Native Americans exceeds the national rate.

          Therefore, federal law enforcement components are ramping up efforts to forge stronger partnerships with federal and Tribal law enforcement partners to address violent crime and the fentanyl crisis, which exposes already vulnerable communities to greater harm.

Accessing Department of Justice Resources

          Over the past year, the Department awarded $268 million in grants to help enhance Tribal justice systems and strengthen law enforcement responses. These awards have also gone toward improving the handling of child abuse cases, combating domestic and sexual violence, supporting Tribal youth programs, and strengthening victim services in Tribal communities.

          For additional information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to address the MMIP crisis, please visit the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons section of the Tribal Safety and Justice website.

          Click here for more information about reporting or identifying missing persons.

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Updated May 6, 2024

Indian Country Law and Justice