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January 22, 2024 HUMAN RIGHTS

Not Invisible Act Commission Submits Recommendations to Address Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons and Human Trafficking

By Virginia Davis and Jerry Gardner

In recent years, the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples (MMIP) and the issue of human trafficking have garnered significant attention. Recognizing the urgent need to address this crisis, Congress established the Not Invisible Act Commission (NIAC), a diverse federal advisory body composed of Tribal leaders, family members of missing and murdered individuals, survivors of human trafficking, law enforcement, federal officials, and service providers. Congress charged the Commission with developing recommendations on actions the federal government can take to address MMIP and human trafficking.

The Commission formally submitted its recommendations to the attorney general, secretary of the interior, and Congress on November 1, 2023. In its report, the Commission concludes that:

"The United States government’s failure to fulfill its trust responsibilities to Tribal nations, coupled with historic policies that sought to disconnect American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people from their land, language, and culture, have given rise to a public health, public safety, and justice crisis in Tribal communities. . . . [A]ddressing the needs in Tribal communities continues to generally be underprioritized by the federal government. Until this changes, violence against AI/AN individuals and on Indian and Alaska Village lands will persist." (NIAC Report, p. 8.) 
Congress established the Not Invisible Act Commission to help address the missing
and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis.

Congress established the Not Invisible Act Commission to help address the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis.


The Commission’s report includes over 300 recommendations that aim to address the systemic issues that have allowed the crisis to persist for so long. Many of the Commission’s recommendations echo those made by the Indian Law and Order Commission in 2013, which were endorsed by the American Bar Association (ABA) Resolution. The recommendations also encompass a set of recommendations endorsed by the ABA in a resolution adopted at the 2020 Midyear Meeting calling for action to address MMIP.

Over the course of their work, the Commission held seven in-person public hearings and one virtual hearing, where they received testimony from over 260 witnesses. These hearings allowed experts, survivors, and family members to share their experiences and recommendations and reflected the depth of the trauma experienced by Tribal communities. Several common themes emerged from these hearings, including the need for reliable and consistent funding, accountability for law enforcement, data coordination, improved communication with affected families, victim and family support, equitable media coverage, and targeted interventions to address vulnerabilities and leverage strengths and resilience within American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities.

In its 200-page report, the Commission makes a host of recommendations to address the issues identified through its hearings. The Commission highlights, in particular, the need for the federal government to address the extreme, persistent underfunding of Tribal justice systems and to overhaul the federal funding process for public safety and justice in Tribal communities. The Commission calls for the federal government to conduct consultation on these issues over the next 12 months and to develop a concrete proposal for reform.

Like the Indian Law and Order Commission before it, the Not Invisible Act Commission highlighted the restrictions federal law places on Tribal criminal jurisdiction as a significant contributing factor to the public safety crisis experienced in many Tribal communities. The Commission recognizes the progress made through the Violence Against Women Act Tribal jurisdiction provisions and recommends a full restoration of Tribal jurisdiction on Tribal lands. The Commission also recommends the creation of a mechanism for tribes that are subject to state jurisdiction under PL 280 (a law that allows states to prosecute crime committed by Indians on Indian lands in certain places) to initiate retrocession of that jurisdiction and legislation that would address the negative impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. The Commission’s recommendations also address the need for Tribal justice systems to be treated equitably to state and local justice systems with regard to recognition of warrants, access to electronic records, and criminal information sharing.

The Commission also found that despite past efforts, substantial gaps in meaningful collaboration remain among state, federal, and Tribal investigatory entities and that many jurisdictions have not implemented the requirements of Savanna’s Act, another federal law passed to address the MMIP crisis. Additionally, the Commission noted that past or ongoing federal efforts to address MMIP are often impermanent or underfunded, doing more harm than good. The Commission also places particular focus on the challenges of addressing MMIP and trafficking in Alaska, where the extreme geographic remoteness and unique history and legal framework create additional challenges.

In response to these findings, one of the Commission’s key overarching recommendations is the declaration of a “Decade of Action and Healing.” This initiative emphasizes the need for the federal government to make a long-term commitment to combatting the deeply rooted issues perpetuating continued violence against AI/AN individuals. As envisioned by the Commission, it would include partnering with Tribal communities, Tribal governments, and relevant organizations to improve safety, prevention, justice, support services, and healing through significantly increased funding, policy reform, action-oriented programs, and training and technical assistance.

The Not Invisible Act Commission’s comprehensive report emphasizes the urgency of the matter and underscores the federal government’s responsibility for supporting AI/AN communities in their healing and pursuit of justice. The attorney general and secretary of the interior now have 90 days to respond to the Commission’s recommendations, marking a critical moment in addressing these issues and taking meaningful steps toward safety for AI/AN communities.

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