About a month ago the United States Department of Justice issued its report on Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions. The report includes a wealth of data on how and why the Justice Department decided to prosecute or not prosecute violent crime committed in Indian Country. As AP writer Mary Hudetz put it, the Justice Department’s “track record for prosecuting Indian Country crimes has not significantly changed in recent years, even amid programs and attempts to boost both public safety and prosecutions on tribal lands”
The Justice Department declined to prosecute in 37% of the cases referred to it. The most common explanation for this, DOJ officials wrote, was a lack of reliable evidence.
Read the Justice Department’s press release announcing the report. You will not be able to miss the celebratory tone. DOJ officials appear genuinely proud of what the department has done. For critics, however, with violence against Native American women drawing increasing scrutiny and legislative attention, there is an enormous amount of additional work that needs to be done. A week before the DOJ released its report, Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s “Savanna’s Act” advanced in the Senate.
Heitkamp’s bill drew its inspiration from Savanna La Fontaine-Greywind, who was murdered in 2017 in Fargo, (you can read about her story on this blog here) and the shattering report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, which indicated that of the 5712 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) reported in 2016, only 116 case were logged on the Department of Justice Database. 95% of the cases studied by the Urban Indian Health Institute never were covered by the media.
So two stories. One, a story of progress, of resources committed, actions taken, and jobs well done. The other, indicating that despite these efforts and actions, much more must be done.