Oklahoma tribes and U.S. attorneys are the first in the nation to work together in a new federal program to handle missing and murdered indigenous persons cases.
The Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee nations will take the lead in developing guidelines for local, state and federal agencies to work with them on such cases. The plans will address law enforcement, victim services, community outreach and communication.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Family Violence Prevention Program Director Shawn Partridge said the program will build on work the tribe has been doing for itself.
"We look forward to our continued work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to increase our responses, to contribute to a framework that can support and increase these efforts in all of Indian Country, and, ultimately, to restore safety on our reservation for all people," Partridge said.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores said the program champions sovereignty. He estimated there are currently 65 unsolved cases of missing or murdered indigenous persons in Oklahoma.
While there are plenty of cold cases of missing and murdered indigenous persons, new cases are the top priority.
"Time is really crucial. So, as we get new reports of missing persons or there are more recent missing persons cases, I think we certainly want to draw attention and resource to those cases in hopes that we can recover that individual before they fall into that murdered persons category," Shores said.
Asked how the program would fare as the Trump administration rolls over to the Biden administration, Shores said he and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma Brian Kuester will push for the Justice Department to keep the program. Partridge said tribes have a very strong voice and will advocate for missing and murdered persons cases to be addressed regardless of the administration.