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BIA, FBI update criminal investigation guidelines for Indian Country

By: - December 13, 2022 10:21 am

A woman holds up a sign as she marches to bring awareness for murdered and missing Indigenous women on Thursday, May 5, 2022. The march made a loop around Wesley Bolin Memorial Park, across from the Arizona State Capitol. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

To provide a more unified response for investigating crimes on tribal nations, including the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples crisis, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Bureau of Investigations updated their guidelines on criminal investigations in Indian Country.

“Interagency coordination is absolutely critical given the complexities of jurisdiction in Tribal communities,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a written statement. “This agreement supports an all-of-government approach to addressing federal responsibilities and Tribal needs in Indian Country.”

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The memo of understanding states that it aims to establish guidelines concerning the individual jurisdictions of the BIA and the FBI in relation to certain investigative matters and to provide for the effective and efficient administration of criminal investigations in Indian Country.

“The FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that updates the operational agreements between these two agencies for the first time since 1993,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said during his speech at the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Dec. 1. 

“This MOU will strengthen information-sharing processes and expand avenues for collaboration between the agencies during criminal investigations,” Garland said. The changes reflect tribal feedback and will assist in making DOJ investigations more efficient and effective.

The FBI has jurisdiction to investigate any crimes listed in the Major Crimes Act. A few of those crimes include murder, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and most sexual offenses, 

“All federal agencies share a treaty and trust responsibility to protect Tribal sovereignty and revitalize Tribal communities,” Newland said. “This partnership will further support our efforts to keep Native people safe in their homes and communities.”

More than 10 provisions are part of the BIA and FBI’s guidelines, including how the BIA Office of Justice Services and the FBI will cooperate on investigations and share information and investigative reports. 

These agencies will establish written guidelines outlining jurisdiction and investigative roles and responsibilities for investigators from the BIA, FBI, and tribal law enforcement agencies.

“The FBI has a crucial role in successfully addressing matters in the nation’s Indian Country communities, and this updated MOU affirms our dedication to the mission of protecting all Americans,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“The FBI will not waver in its support of our Tribal law enforcement agency partners and our coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Wray added.

The BIA Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) Criminal Investigators, FBI, and Tribal Criminal Investigators shall be trained to employ a victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive approach during criminal investigations.

“This agreement is a crucial step to advancing public safety for American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said. 

“The Department of Justice is committed to working with the Department of the Interior to investigate Indian Country crimes, including reports of missing or murdered Indigenous people, quickly, effectively, and respectfully,” Gupta added. “We are grateful to the Tribes that provided input into this new policy.”

The MOU defines the responsibilities of FBI, BIA, and Tribal investigators to ensure that missing person cases are entered into the National Crime Information Center, National Incident-Based Reporting System, and other appropriate federal criminal databases and that DNA is submitted to the National Missing Person DNA Database when appropriate and available.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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