(CNN) — The US Marshals Service is teaming up with a Native American tribe based in Northern California for a new push aimed at addressing cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people, a growing crisis that tribes say has not received enough attention.
The Yurok Tribe was chosen as the first pilot location for the federal agency’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative (MMIP), which is part of the Justice Department’s efforts to address disproportionately high rates of violence experienced by Native Americans, including Indigenous people, its website says.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a federal agency aimed at enhancing life for Native Americans, estimates there are more than 4,200 missing and murdered cases that have gone unsolved. The agency lists out many of the cases and photos of the missing on its website. But despite the numbers, cases involving Indigenous people have largely gone under the radar and advocates have been pushing for additional dedicated law enforcement resources and attention in the news media to the crisis, CNN previously reported.
Authorities say they have long faced a number of challenges that have prevented them from solving cases. Police say in some cases it involves family-on-family crime and relatives refuse to provide information because they don’t want the person responsible to go to jail. In other cases, there is limited evidence, CNN previously reported. Tribal communities generally don’t have doorbell cameras or exterior security cameras that help police investigate cases in urban or suburban areas.
The partnership with the Yurok Tribe, which was announced on Tuesday, will involve a collaboration between the tribe and USMS “to share information, identify goals, and develop strategies for improving public safety for Yurok Tribe, its members, and the broader community,” the USMS said in a press release.
The Yurok Tribe is currently the largest tribe in California with more than 5,000 members, according to the tribe’s website. The tribe has been a leader in fighting the crisis of missing and murdered Native American and Indigenous people and calling for programs to prevent future cases.
“The Yurok Tribe is extremely grateful to partner with the US Marshals Service on this important and timely initiative,” Joseph L. James, chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said in a statement. “The knowledge and tools we will gain from this unique partnership will significantly increase our capacity to keep our community safe.”
In January, the tribe received a $350,000 grant from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to hire a full-time investigator for ongoing and cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people, according to CNN affiliate KRCR. Tribal leaders also recently requested $200 million dollars from the state government to fight the crisis, KRCR reported.
The crisis spurred the FBI into action enlisting the agency’s intelligence resources best known for fighting crime and terrorism to create a master database last year of missing Native Americans in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, CNN previously reported.
The database — which includes photos of the missing along with their age, gender and date of last contact — has been praised by advocates who insist that the cases of missing and murdered Native Americans don’t receive the attention they deserve from police, CNN reported.
The issue has also garnered the attention of President Joe Biden’s administration, which has rolled out a number of initiatives to address violence against Native Americans including a new unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate the cases while coordinating resources among federal agencies and Indian country.
Members of the Yurok tribe and USMS recently met to discuss the partnership and the potential to work together on a wide range of activities — depending on the tribe’s priorities, the release said.
The targeted areas may include training on missing child investigations, data analysis, public outreach, sex offender registration and enforcement as well as investigative support for the tribe’s law enforcement officers, the release says.
“It is my sincere hope that by dedicating resources in Indian Country and partnering with the Yurok Tribe, U.S. Marshals will help address the problem of missing children from the Yurok Tribe and assist with other public safety initiatives, such as ensuring that registered sex offenders in the area are compliant with their statutory requirements,” US Marshals Service Director Ronald L. Davis said in a statement.
“We are fully committed to supporting the Yurok Tribe’s efforts to keep their communities safe,” he added.
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