Federal plan will address missing, murdered indigenous persons

Curyung Native Council, Native village of Unalakleet and Koyukuk Native Village are initial participating communities

A pilot project to combat cases of missing and murdered indigenous people in Alaska has been launched by the Justice Department to help tribal communities without and with limited law enforcement, with plans to expand it statewide.

The plan, announced on Monday, Feb. 8, by Brian Schroder, U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, will include the tribal communities of the Curyung Native Council in Dillingham, the Native Village of Unalakleet, and Koyukuk Native Village. All three tribal communities volunteered to serve as pilot project sites.

Schroder said they have already completed their first week-long project meetings with tribal stakeholders, multidisciplinary providers and law enforcement, the first steps toward tribal community response plans to be share with tribal communities statewide.

Given that there are 229 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, the Justice Department adopted a pilot program approach to establish initial tribal community response plans that can be shared with other tribal communities statewide, he said.

“In Alaska, law enforcement agencies often need to think outside the box, but inside the rules, to protect the people we serve” said Robert Britt, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Anchorage. The FBI will work with Alaska State Troopers, local and tribal partners, to find sustainable solutions to improve public safety in Alaska, he said.

The goal of the pilot project is to establish a collaborative response from tribal governments, law enforcement agencies and other partners by implementing culturally appropriate guidelines when investigating emergent cases of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The Alaska Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons group began meeting last September. The guidelines developed outline how collaborators can best work together to respond to such cases. The guidelines cover communities with no law enforcement or limited law enforcement, and tribal hub communities with municipal or state law enforcement.

The collaborative effort is being led by Ingrid Cumberlidge, MMIP coordinator with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage. Participants include law enforcement representatives from Alaska State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers, FBI, Anchorage Police Department, U.S. Marshals, Fairbanks Police Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Cold Case Office, Kotzebue Police Department, Nome Police Department, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, VPSO supervisors and Tanana Chiefs Conference VPSO supervisors. Also participating are legal and judicial representatives from the Alaska Department of Law, U.S. Coast Guard, Kluti-Kaah Tribal Court, Tribal representatives from Ahtna Region, Orutsararmiut Native Council, Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, victim service providers and advocates from Victims for Justice and the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.

Ahtna spokesperson Lucille Lincoln said she is thankful that different agencies are working with Native entities and learning about their problems to help Native people and present them somewhere to turn in these situations.

“My hope is that this project will continue to raise awareness, gather resources and develop protocols for Unalakleet and all Alaska tribes to respond to cases of missing and murdered indigenous people,” said Frank Katchatag, president of the Unalakleet Tribal Council.

According to Shirly Sam, tribal victim specialist for the Koyukuk Native Village, the pilot project presents an opportunity to address the issues that the community has faced in the past when tribal members went missing or were murdered. “This guide adheres to tribal traditions and cultures,” she said.