U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, center, participates in a Not Invisible Act Commission hearing in February 2023. (Courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior)
The South Dakota-based leader of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains is encouraging people to provide input during a federal commission’s upcoming hearings on missing and murdered Indigenous people and human trafficking.
Carmen O’Leary, Cheyenne River Lakota, of Eagle Butte, is the executive director of the society.
“It is important to our community that the people have input, whether it is by contributing a personal story, offering a possible solution to address the problem, or helping to identify gaps in the system,” O’Leary said.
The Not Invisible Act Commission will conduct a public hearing Tuesday and Wednesday in Billings, Montana, and virtual hearings Aug. 2-3. The commission is also accepting written testimony, recommendations and questions by email.
Only with the collective participation of all our communities will our missing, murdered, or trafficked relatives and friends no longer be invisible.
– U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland
The commission is an outgrowth of a federal law, the Not Invisible Act. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, of the Laguna Pueblo, led the effort to create the law in 2020 when she was in Congress. The purpose of the act is to increase coordination to identify and combat violent crime within American Indian lands and against Indian people.
In a June 8 letter to tribal leaders, Haaland said, “Only with the collective participation of all our communities will our missing, murdered, or trafficked relatives and friends no longer be invisible.”
The act was a response to the longstanding crises of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP) and human trafficking. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates there are 4,200 unsolved MMIP cases, attributable in part to layered jurisdiction, a lack of collaboration between law enforcement agencies, and systemic apathy.
The Not Invisible Act Commission is a cross-jurisdictional advisory committee composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals, and survivors.
Since April, the commission has conducted field hearings in some of the communities most affected by the MMIP crisis, including Tulsa, Anchorage, Flagstaff, Minneapolis and Albuquerque.
Findings from hearings and written testimony will shape the commission’s final report to Haaland, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Congress. The report is required by October and will include recommendations for how to improve intergovernmental coordination, bolster resources, and establish best practices for state/tribal/federal law enforcement to address MMIP violence and human trafficking.
The Billings event is the final field hearing, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center. Attendees must register at https://web.cvent.com/event/aa88101b-072b-406e-be21-9d30cf62a008/summary.
The Billings event will provide a forum for those who wish to offer testimony directly. Trauma-informed mental health support will be available onsite with optional follow-up support as needed.
The virtual hearings will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 2-3. Those who wish to attend or comment must register at https://tinyurl.com/33twawtk for the first day and https://tinyurl.com/5ehdwjcx for the second day.
The commission asks that comments be limited to 15 minutes due to the high volume of interest in the hearings. According to the registration page for the virtual hearings, “The Commission’s desire is to hear the stories of all who want to share.”
Those who prefer may email written testimony, recommendations or questions to the Not Invisible Act Commission at [email protected]. Include “NIAC Testimony” or “NIAC Question” in the subject line.
– This story was originally published by the West River Eagle, a newspaper based in Eagle Butte.
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