On Thursday, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes became the first in the nation to complete a community response plan—a Justice Department initiative aimed at creating collaboration among law enforcement agencies that includes tribal police, county police and federal authorities–when Native Americans go missing on tribal land, reports the Associated Press. Still, there are major holes. Among the most glaring: There is no plan for when a tribal citizen goes missing off a reservation or outside tribal lands. In 2018, an Associated Press investigation found that 633 Indigenous women made up 0.7 percent of open missing person cases despite being 0.4 percent of the U.S. population. The situation is especially alarming in states such as Montana, which have large Native American populations. Native Americans make up less than 7 percent of Montana’s population but account for 25 percent of reported missing person cases. It is not a federal crime for an adult to go missing, and the FBI generally would only step in if there was clear evidence that a crime has been committed that led to a disappearance.
The new plan aims to increase communication among local law enforcement officials, especially in places where there is overlapping jurisdiction. As part of the initiative, police departments are now sharing dispatch information, meaning that when one sheriff’s office receives a missing person report, it can be shared quickly and widely. Also, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI would offer resources and make a sheriff’s office aware of how the federal government could help. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Thursday the formation of a new unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to address the missing and murdered Indigenous persons’ crisis, with the goal of coordinating different federal resources to investigate cases.