Updated at 7:17 p.m. ET
U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a national plan on Friday to increase the federal government's role in reducing the number of Native Americans who are murdered or reported missing every year.
Barr announced the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative after a meeting with tribal leaders and law enforcement officials at the Flathead Reservation in Montana, home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
"American Indian and Alaska Native people suffer from unacceptable and disproportionately high levels of violence, which can have lasting impacts on families and communities, Barr said in a statement. "Native American women face particularly high rates of violence, with at least half suffering sexual or intimate-partner violence in their lifetime. Too many of these families have experienced the loss of loved ones who went missing or were murdered."
As NPR's Camila Domonoske reported last year,
"Native women living on tribal lands are murdered at an extremely high rate — in some communities, more than 10 times the national average, according to research funded by the Department of Justice. And in part because of jurisdictional challenges, the disappearances can be hard to track and prosecute."
And the crisis is not confined to reservations, as more than 70% of Native Americans in the U.S. live in urban areas. A study by the Urban Indian Health Institute found that in 2016 there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, but the Justice Department's database of missing persons logged only 116 cases.
The Justice Department's plan has three elements:
- The department will spend $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators in U.S. attorneys' offices in 11 states to develop protocols for improving law enforcement response to reports of missing or murdered persons.
- The FBI can be brought in to work on such cases at the request of tribal, state and local law enforcement. Rapid deployment teams specializing in child abduction, evidence collection and digital and social media analysis can be brought in.
- The department will also improve its missing-persons data by conducting an in-depth analysis of its databases and data collection practices.
Federal and state agencies will also coordinate to provide local training in using federal missing-persons databases.
"This is the stuff we've been advocating for," Amber Crotty, a lawmaker on the Navajo Nation, told the Associated Press. "It's just funding a slice of it."