Tribal Government & News

New BIA unit will assist Operation Lady Justice with investigating missing and murdered Indigenous cases

Photo posted on Deb Haaland's Instagram (@debhaalandnm) on March 16, 2021.


WASHINGTON – Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo Nation) announced the formation of a new Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services.

According to a press release, the new unit will provide leadership and direction for cross-departmental and interagency work involving missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives, helping to put the full weight of the federal government into investigating these cases and include federal law enforcement resources across agencies and throughout Indian country.

“Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades,” Haaland said. “Far too often, murders and missing person’s cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated. 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.” 

Approximately 1,500 Native American and Alaska Native missing persons have been entered into the National Crime Information Center in the United States, and approximately 2,700 cases of murder and nonnegligent homicide have been reported to the federal government’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. 

To help address these unresolved cases, Operation Lady Justice — a task force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives — was formed in 2019. The new unit will build on that work by designating new leadership and support positions.

Investigations often remain unsolved often due to a lack of investigative resources available to identify new information from witness testimony, re-examine new or retained material evidence, and review fresh activities of suspects.

The Missing and Murdered Unit, in addition to reviewing unsolved cases, will immediately begin working with Tribal, BIA and FBI Investigators on active investigations. It will also enable the department to expand its collaborative efforts with other agencies.

“Whether it’s a missing family member or a homicide investigation, these efforts will be all hands-on deck,” Haaland said. “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 U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon released its own Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons report on Feb. 19, the first of its kind released by any U.S. Attorney’s Office since Operation Lady Justice was launched.

The Oregon report provides Tribes, law enforcement and the public with an overview of current cases as well as the Attorney’s Office plans to address the crisis in 2021.

The report includes summaries of eight murdered and 11 missing Indigenous people, including Grand Ronde Tribal member Heather Cameron, missing since Aug. 18, 2012, from a remote area of Redding, Calif.