KTUU: New legislation would address cold cases of missing women in Alaska

A list of names highlights a grim reality in Alaska – a crisis of missing or murdered indigenous women and children.

More than 50 such cases are missing from law enforcement records, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute. These unsolved cases leave families scarred and desperate for answers -- prompting action from federal lawmakers to provide closure once and for all.

"If you have a family member who has gone missing, who was murdered and the case has not been solved, think about the heartbreak and damage to them,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R - Alaska, said, “knowing that there has been no justice for their daughter, for their sister ..."

Murkowski is a leader of what she calls a bipartisan effort in Washington D.C. seeking justice for missing and murdered indigenous people across the U.S. She has co-written two bills that would enhance law enforcement's ability to solve these cases and prevent them from happening in the future.

But Murkowski says law enforcement lacks the data and information it needs to coordinate a response to these widespread cold cases. She says the first priority of her new legislation is to understand the full extent of the problem.

The Urban Indian Health Institute keeps track of missing and murder cases across the country. There are 506 cases of missing and/or murdered indigenous women and girls in 71 U.S. cities and 29 states.

There are 52 unsolved cases in Alaska. The state’s largest city, Anchorage, has the highest amount, followed by Bethel, Fairbanks, and Juneau, and one case from Utqiagvik. Members of these communities say the time to take action is long overdue.

"It's just been a growing issue that's been happening for so long that we can't look away from it any longer," Rochelle Adams, with Native Peoples Action, said.

Adams advocates on behalf of the families of missing and murdered indigenous women in Alaska. Born and raised in Fort Yukon, she says she knows first-hand the pain this crisis has brought to rural Alaskan communities.

"What we're talking about is the lives of our families,” Adams said. “And so many of us have been touched by these tragedies."

U.S. Attorney General William Barr continues to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people in Alaska and nationwide. On Friday, Barr announced a $1.5 million federal investment in developing coordinated law enforcement responses to missing persons cases.

During a meeting in Montana focused on drug abuse and crime, Barr talked about chronic under-funding of law enforcement across the country. He said changing this trend will take coordinated efforts across agencies.

"An essential part of this; state-by-state, city-by-city, federal government working hand-in-glove in partnership with state and local,” Barr said. “One of the problems we face now in the country, generally, is we are under-resourcing law enforcement."

It is unclear when the $1.5 million will be appropriated, and how much of it will go to Alaska. According to a press release from Sen. Murkowski’s office, her two pieces of legislation passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and are heading to the full Senate for consideration.

By:  Derek Minemyer
Source: KTUU