During a House Budget Committee hearing on Tuesday, Haaland explained what work the new unit will focus on. “The new unit will improve coordination within and outside of the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] to make sure that we’re not missing anything,” Haaland said, noting that she feels it’s important for the unit to offer leadership so “everyone is moving in the same direction.” Haaland also spoke favorably of the initial DOJ presidential task force, called Operation Lady Justice.
Haaland added: “This is an issue that’s been going on for 500 years since Europeans came to this continent.” She said it’s “going to take a lot more effort” but people have finally “started to scratch the surface.”
On a literal level, the MMU will use federal resources to help with investigations into ongoing cases, including ones that are unsolved and ones that are active. The unit is an extension and bigger picture effort than Operation Lady Justice in that this attempt will more directly center and involve tribal communities.
Earlier this month, Haaland spoke to the emotional devastation people face when family members and loved ones are lost. In a statement from April 4, Haaland said, “Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated.” With this in mind, the new MMU unit, according to Haaland, will offer “resources and leadership to prioritize these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families.”
When she was in Congress, Haaland was a consistent and passionate advocate on this issue, pushing legislation that would hold the federal government accountable for actually tracking cases of missing and murdered Native women—and, of course, actually using resources to try and solve them. It goes without saying that prevention is the real goal here, but Haaland’s dedication to tracking “unresolved” cases and bringing justice and closure to families is incredibly important.
If you’re struggling to contextualize just how big of an issue this is, consider this data. According to a research project funded by the DOJ, there are some instances in this nation where Indigenous women living on tribal lands are murdered at rates more than 10 times that of the national average. Ten times. For example, Native people make up just 7% of the population in Montana, yet they total 25% of reported missing person cases.