New project examines missing and murdered Native Americans

LINDSAY M. McCOY

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is asking for the public’s help in obtaining information for their newly created database to track and resolve cases of missing and murdered members.

Michigan’s Sault Tribe and Bay Mills Indian Community are among tribes from six states selected to participate in a nationwide pilot project addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

Murder, rape, and violent crime rates among Native Americans and Alaska Natives are all higher than the national average. This has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous women, who are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than women of any other ethnicity.

The goal of the project is to help tribal communities create and implement a response plan that follows FBI guidelines on how victim services, law enforcement, and the media can best respond to a report of a missing Indigenous person, said Michigan USA program coordinator Joel Postma. Department of Justice.

The other states in the project are Oklahoma, Montana, Minnesota, Alaska and Oregon.

“These offices of American attorneys from different districts collaborated and said, ‘Let’s have people working in a checkerboard pattern across the country with federal, state, and local tribal agencies to develop protocols and procedures to respond to a report of a missing or murdered American Indian. or the case of the Alaska Natives,” he said.

Postma, who is from Chippewa County, said his close relationship with the Bay Mills Chippewa Indian community and the Sault Tribe inspired him to nominate the two for the pilot project.

“They had an increasingly small tribal population in overall numbers and were also right on the international border,” Postma said. “It had to do with their location and, on my part, having a good working relationship with the tribes.”

Postma said he is working with other tribes across the state to establish the same type of community response plan.

A collaborative effort is needed to resolve and end the crisis, said Jami Moran, director of the Sault Tribe’s Advocacy Resource Center, which oversees the database project.

“Our voices are stronger when we are united to move these cases forward,” she said.

Moran said the database was the first to be established for the tribe and other nearby communities, and is an effort to get the federal government to include tribal citizenship as an ethnic option in missing persons databases and murdered.

“It was almost embarrassing that we didn’t know our own tribe’s stats,” Moran said. “It’s one thing to ask the feds to update their database, but we didn’t know each other.”

When the database was created last August, Jessica Gillotte, the center’s community educator, posted a request in the tribe’s newspaper and on social media asking members to submit information about missing or murdered members. of the Sault Tribe in resolved and unresolved cases.

Since then, four confirmed missing persons cases and 11 murder cases have been reported.

“Two of those who were missing have since been found and are now residing at their home,” Gillotte said.

An active missing person case in the database is Yvonne Renee Scott, a tribal member and mother of two, who has been missing since 2004 from Kent County.

Gillotte said many people think the tribe only looks at new and current cases, but they want any information, regardless of age.

“I had someone contact me that something happened to a family member in 1970,” she said. “They are always trying to find information.”

Michigan ranks 7and in the country for missing persons, with 556 cases, according to data from the World Population Review.

Six of those cases involve people identified as “American Indian/Alaska Native” and 13 are classified as “multiple, other, or uncertain.”

However, this may be an undercount, due to the fact that many cases of missing and/or murdered Aboriginal people go unreported for various reasons.

Moran said, “What are we doing collectively, not just as tribes, but as a state, to sort this out and identify them by tribal citizenship.”

An open case from 1997 is that of an unidentified baby who was found dead in the tribe’s service area in Mackinac County, which has the highest rate of Native American residents in the state, said Moran.

“There’s a one in five chance that baby is one of us,” she said.

The baby, now known as Baby Garnet, was abandoned in the latrine at Garnet Lake Park Campground in Naubinway.

Moran said she hopes the pilot project, new database and community response plan will raise awareness of such cases and the importance of resolving them and mitigating the crisis.

In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported over 5,000 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children. However, that number is grossly underestimated, experts say.

“Right now, no one knows how many Native Americans are missing in the United States,” Moran said. “To me, that’s outrageous.”

Last year, when a teenager went missing in the tribe’s service area, tribal law enforcement officers worked with the agency handling the case using new guidelines from the plan. intervention.

“This teenager was found in another state” with known FBI human traffickers, Moran said. “If our law enforcement agency hadn’t reached out, I don’t know if this child would have been found so quickly.”

Moran said she hopes to see similar plans nationwide because the project has proven successful for the Sault Tribe.

“We know our plan is working and I’m glad we have it.”

Nohemi M. Moore