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Press Release

U.S. Attorney's Office Joins Nationwide Effort to Strengthen and Build Partnerships to Address the Issue of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons

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

OKLAHOMA CITY – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma joins its partners across the federal government, as well as people throughout Indian country, along with American Indian and Alaska Native communities, in recognizing May 5 as National Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (“MMIP”) Awareness Day. 

In recognition of MMIP Awareness Day, United States Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced increased efforts to tackle Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons cases and human trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Additionally, plans were announced to address other pressing public safety challenges, like the distribution of fentanyl into Indian country, which exacerbates violence and addiction in already vulnerable rural 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 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.”

“Addressing crime in Indian country requires a continued, efficient, coordinated law enforcement effort from all levels,” said United States Attorney Robert J. Troester. “Our office is also working closely with tribal governments and local grassroots advocacy groups to make sure law enforcement has access to critical information regarding missing loved ones. We remain committed to work with our local, state, tribal, and federal partners to bring justice to Indian country victims and hold criminal offenders accountable.” 

“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 Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced the creation of the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Regional Outreach Program, which permanently places ten 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. 

U.S. Attorney’s Office MMIP Initiative

The United States Attorneys in Oklahoma last year issued MMIP Guidelines for Oklahoma, pursuant to Savanna’s Act, which include important provisions for improving law enforcement and justice protocols and enhancing cooperation between agencies, with the goal of having a comprehensive law enforcement strategy to respond to these cases.  Additionally, the Guidelines provide suggested procedures to all law enforcement for investigating missing persons cases, addressing jurisdictional concerns, registering victim protection orders into the National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”), and issuing Amber Alert, Kacey Alert, and Silver Alert notifications through the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Efforts to utilize and update the database of missing or murdered Indigenous people, through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (“NamUs”), which has included active consultation with the 21 federally recognized tribal nations in the District, has been ongoing and is an important part of the overall strategy.

The MMIP Initiative in the Western District of Oklahoma prioritizes identifying and tracking MMIP cases consistent with the Deputy Attorney General’s July 2022 directive to U.S. Attorney’s Offices promoting public safety in Indian country. The program fulfills the Justice Department’s promise to dedicate personnel to address MMIP issues 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 promulgated in July 2022. In the Western District of Oklahoma, the District’s Senior Counsel for Tribal Relations, Arvo Mikkanen, and Law Enforcement Coordinator, Jim Mogren, have been working with Tribes and law enforcement to identify and track cases involving missing persons and cold-case murder investigations of tribal citizens.

Most recently, on April 27, 2024, the U.S. Attorney’s Office also participated in the “Missing in Oklahoma 2024” public event at the University of Central Oklahoma (“UCO”) Forensic Science Institute in Edmond, Oklahoma. Families and friends of missing persons attended, along with numerous law enforcement agencies from across Oklahoma.  Participants were able to receive information from providers, complete a missing person report, provide additional investigative leads, enter missing persons into the NamUs database, and provide dental records, photos, and family DNA samples to compare to potential remains recovered during investigations.

Not Invisible Act Commission Response

The Justice Department’s work to respond to issues involving MMIP is a Department-wide effort.  Additionally, in March, the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior released their joint response to the Not Invisible Act Commission’s (“NIAC”) recommendations on how to combat cases involving missing or murdered indigenous persons and human trafficking. The NIAC response, announced by Attorney General Garland during a visit to the Crow Nation in Montana, recognizes that more must be done across the federal government to resolve these complicated issues and support prompt and coordinated investigative efforts.

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 persons going missing from Indian country.

Furthermore, fentanyl poisoning and overdose deaths are the leading cause of opioid deaths throughout the United States, including Indian country and tribal communities, where drug-related overdose death rates for Native Americans exceed the national rate.

As a result, federal law enforcement agencies are ramping up efforts to forge stronger partnerships with tribal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to address violent crime and the distribution of fentanyl into Indian country, which expose already vulnerable communities to greater harm. 

A few recent examples of violent-crime and fentanyl-related prosecutions stemming from Indian country within the Western District of Oklahoma include:

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 MMIP issues, please visit the Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons section of the DOJ Tribal Safety and Justice website.

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

Updated May 3, 2024