Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons day recognized in Alaska

Leaders from across Alaska and across the country recognized Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day on May 5.
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 3:33 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Leaders from across Alaska and across the country recognized Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day on May 5.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, spoke during special orders to the Alaska Senate about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons day, recognizing the names of missing Indigenous women from near his home community whose murderers had been brought to justice, and those who hadn’t.

Olson invited people in Juneau to join him for a rally at 5 p.m. on the steps of the Capitol.

“We try very hard to take care of our own but we need support from our fellow Alaskans,” Olson said. “We need funding to support communities so that they can have training and be prepared for these lengthy searches that go on, to make sure the searches are safe as they look for their loved ones.”

Olson said that he joined in searching for his own father for three months. Following Olson’s heartfelt testimony, Senate President Peter Micciche asked that a moment of silence be held in remembrance.

In the summer of 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice created a presidential task force for investigating missing and murdered indigenous persons. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a release declaring Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Day as May 5.

“This March, I signed into law the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022,” Biden wrote. “This important law expands special criminal jurisdiction of Tribal courts to cover non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on Tribal law enforcement officers on Tribal lands and supports the development of a pilot project to enhance access to safety for survivors in Alaska Native villages.”

Biden wrote that his administration was committed to investigating and resolving cases through law enforcement, as well as researching and intervening in the underlying causes of violence as part of work with Native communities.

Last month, the Alaska Department of Public Safety announced that 22-year Alaska law enforcement veteran Anne Sears would lead the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative. Sears was the only Alaska Native woman serving as a trooper when she was hired, and was still the only Alaska Native woman on the force when she retired last October.

On Thursday, the troopers released a video with Sears discussing her newly created position that is tasked with investigating these disappearances.

“I wanted to do something to help my people,” Sears said in the video.

Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco held a virtual event on Thursday to recognize Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. According to a press release, both departments are working to implement the Not Invisible Act.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, but a lack of urgency, transparency and coordination have hampered our country’s efforts to combat violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Haaland said. “As we work with the Department of Justice to prioritize the national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, the Not Invisible Act Commission will help address its underlying roots by ensuring the voices of those impacted by violence against Native people are included in our quest to implement solutions.”

The Not Invisible Act Commission may make recommendations to the Department of Interior or the Department of Justice to improve coordination and bolster resources for survivors and the families of victims. The commission is also tasked with combating the “epidemic of missing persons” by gathering testimony at hearings, acquiring additional evidence and feedback from members.

The Not Invisible Act was passed in October 2020, and the members of the commission were announced on Thursday.

“The Justice Department is committed to addressing the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous persons with the urgency it demands,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “That commitment is reflected in the strength of our partnerships across the federal government, including with the Department of the Interior as we take the next steps in launching the Not Invisible Act Commission. The Commissioners announced today will play a critical role in our efforts to better meet the public safety needs of Native communities.”

The Department of Justice also issued a press release recognizing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day in Alaska. U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska S. Lane Tucker traveled to Kotzebue, where she met with the Maniilaq Association and members of the Northwest Arctic Tribes to discuss the issues.

“Generations of Alaska Natives have experienced violence or mourned a murdered or missing loved one for far too long,” Tucker said. “Today we reaffirm our commitment to Tribes across Alaska to help find lasting solutions to the MMIP challenge in our state. Working in partnership with Tribal, federal, state and local agencies, we can and must find a way to address the disproportionately high number of missing or murdered Indigenous people as well as help bring answers and justice for the victims and families.”

An Alaskan working group for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons has met every month for the last year, according to the Justice Department, prioritizing participating in listening and consultation with according to the department. The group has met with 170 of 229 federally recognized Alaska Native Tribes.

Copyright 2022 KTUU. All rights reserved.