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Missing, murdered unit sees big budget boost

One of the first initiatives Interior Secretary Deb Haaland established after her first day on the job – March 18th – was the creation of a unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to focus on missing and murdered Native Americans. She made the announcement April 1st.

The Department of Justice had established a similar unit in 2019 – Operation Lady Justice. However, Haaland’s unit comes with the heft of a $6 million budget – a significant increase from the $1 million allotted to the DOJ. Haaland also created a top staff position at the unit to coordinate policy.

In an April 20 House Budget Committee hearing on the Biden administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2022, ranking member Dave Joyce, an Ohio Republican, asked Haaland to describe the unit’s goals.

“There’s been a lot of engagement across the government — we felt that it was important for this unit to provide the leadership that it needs so everyone is moving in the same direction,” Haaland said. “The new unit will improve coordination within and outside of the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] to make sure that we’re not missing anything.”

Haaland said the goal at the Interior was to cast a wider net to make sure no stone is left unturned.

“This is an issue that’s been going on for 500 years since Europeans came to this continent,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot more effort [and] we’ve started to scratch the surface.”

Long before her rise to lead the Interior, Haaland – a 35th-generation New Mexican from Laguna Pueblo – had been instrumental in raising the profile of missing and murdered Native Americans.

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

In part thanks to Haaland, it is now more well-documented and widely known that Indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. When it comes to Native American and Alaska Native women and girls who are between the ages of 10 and 24, homicide is the third-leading cause of death.

Haaland made history March 16th when the Senate confirmed her by a vote of 51- to-40 to lead the Interior. She is the first Native American to lead the agency and the first to hold a cabinet position. In 2018 she also made history as one of the first two Native American women elected to the House.

More information on the missing and murdered unit is available at bia.gov.

The logo of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA group. (Courtesy image)
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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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