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Feds take next steps to implement ‘Not Invisible Act’

Nonprofit group Seeding Sovereignty commissioned this piece by Indigenous youth artist Jackie Fawn to recognize missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Image via Facebook)

Two federal agencies are working together in an effort to reverse the scourge of missing and murdered Indigenous people and violence toward Native Americans.

The Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior announced Aug. 4 its next steps toward implementation of the “Not Invisible Act.” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) was the sponsor of the bill while serving in Congress. It passed and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Oct. 10, 2020.

The DOJ and the DOI are now soliciting nominations for a minimum of 28 people to serve on a joint commission and are planning a schedule of consultations with tribal leaders.

According to the agencies, the commission will consist of federal and nonfederal members, including representatives of tribal, state and local law enforcement; tribal judges; health care and mental health practitioners with experience working with Native American survivors of trafficking and sexual assault; urban Indian organizations focused on violence against women and children; Native American survivors of human trafficking; and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous people. 

Indigenous women and girls have been particularly affected in Indian Country. For example, as of 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing Native American women and girls, but the DOJ missing persons database listed just 116 cases. Stakeholders also point out that non-Native people commit the majority of the murders on reservations. They say the lack of communication with federal agencies combined with jurisdictional issues involving law enforcement makes it extremely difficult to begin investigative processes.

“The Justice Department is committed to working with the Interior Department to address the persistent violence endured by Native American families and communities across the country,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, head of the DOJ, said in a statement. “The membership of this joint commission must represent a diverse range of expertise, experience and perspectives, and we will consult with tribal leaders who know best what their communities need to make them safer.” 

Haaland said the law provides a unique opportunity for the agencies to marshal resources in the effort.

“Doing this successfully means seeking active and ongoing engagement from experts both inside and outside of the government; incorporating Indigenous knowledge, tribal consultation and a commission that reflects members who know first-hand the needs of their people will be critical as we address this epidemic in Native American and Alaska Native communities,” Haaland said in a statement.

Once the commission is formed, hearings will be scheduled to receive testimony and evidence to develop recommendations for the federal government to act upon.

More information is available by searching “Not Invisible Act” at bia.gov.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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