Daines questions BIA over MMIW cases

Senator Steve Daines spent his afternoon on Capitol Hill speaking with the Bureau of Indian Affairs about the ever growing Missing and Murdered Indigenous People epidemic.

Sen. Daines questioned the BIA’s practices, specifically in Indian Country when it comes to communicating with families.

“One of the most frustrating experiences for families is the lack of information being shared from federal law enforcement agencies.  It seems like there is a black hole,” said Daines

Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs told the committee that information is sometimes hard to share.

“Daines: Does the Office of Justice services currently have access to reports, lab results, photos or other evidence on missing persons or other cold cases with the Department of Justice?

Sweeney: What I can tell you is if BIA Office of Justice Services is the lead investigative bureau on a case, then we do have access.  If there are cases where the FBI is the lead and is conducting an investigation in Indian Country we can do a better job of information sharing.

Daines: Does that mean they do have access or they don’t if it’s FBI?

Sweeney:  Not always.”

Senator Daines is working to put together a step by step protocol for all missing indigenous people which would include using social media platforms as well as cell phone records to ensure within 72 hours as much information about the missing person is disseminated as quickly as possible. 

“We’re going to be working on that to put out some kind of a standardized protocol, no matter what agency we’re working with so we can all be operating on the same standard procedures,” said Daines.

The most recurring theme to Wednesday’s questions was what can be done to ensure there is more effective communication between all agencies in order to bring these men and women home safe?

Sweeney said, “In addition to Department of Justice and Department of Interior, bringing in HHS (Health and Human Services) as well and having that dialogue, to look at what truly are the needs.  What ar ethe challenges and what role does the administration play in closing that information gap.”

The importance of this issue is one both sides of aisle can agree on.  Democratic Senator Jon Tester is also leading a group of legislators asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the MMIW crisis.