Across the United States, justice has lagged and gaps in response to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women/People (MMIW/P) persist as a result of a legacy of institutionalized disregard for Indigenous lives. In 2018, Oklahoma was among the top 10 states with the highest number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People cases, and Oklahoma City was among the top 10 cities listed as having the highest number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women cases that were not in law enforcement records.
House Bill 1077, also called the Kasey Alert Act, shows promise for proactively addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People crisis because the legislation requires the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to develop and implement a statewide alert when an adult becomes critically missing. HB 1077, authored by Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, and Sen. Cody Rogers, R-Tulsa, and signed into law on May 1 by Gov. Stitt, directs the Department of Public Safety to create a statewide Kasey Alert for critically missing adults, similar to the alerts used for children and elders. The Kasey Alert will be a proactive effort to immediately alert the public when a person age 18-59 goes missing. Combined with Ida’s Law (Senate Bill 172 passed in April 2021), the Kasey Alert signals hope for justice for Oklahoma families impacted by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People epidemic.
Building the infrastructure to support Indigenous Oklahomans is important
Combating the MMIW/P crisis by creating the necessary infrastructure so that reporting and alerts can happen in a timely manner will mean more positive outcomes for Indigenous Oklahomans and their families. There are numerous challenges, such as lack of data collection and investigative resources across jurisdictions, to adequately address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People crisis. Ida’s Law, which took effect in November 2021, requires the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to secure federal funding to establish an office of liaison and create a database to keep up with cases and work with tribal, state, and federal authorities.
Oklahomans deserve a state-level prioritization of public safety and justice for missing and/or murdered Indigenous people. There are 38 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma. There were more than 630,000 Oklahomans who self-identified in the 2020 Census as American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in combination, accounting for 16 percent of the state’s population. Oklahoma women, and especially Native women, are at greater risk of poverty and violence. What’s more, women in Oklahoma experience poverty and harsher socioeconomic conditions and outcomes, and Native women specifically continue to experience disproportionately high rates of violence. In Oklahoma, this statistic is made even more evident in the number of tribal and non-tribal domestic violence and sexual assault programs across the state.
When an Indigenous person goes missing, efforts to find them are largely organized by families and at-large Native communities. The most immediate and available resource has been a number of MMIW/P pages on social media. Widespread confusion around jurisdiction, lack of resources, and inaction delay or prevent justice system mobilization when an Indigenous person is missing or murdered. Factors such as learning if a tribal citizen is involved, or even identifying a defendant, combined with confirming the land status of where a crime took place, all can impact how the crime is identified and who has the authority and jurisdiction to act.
Jurisdiction remains a particularly difficult issue. In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Castro-Huerta v. Oklahoma, held that “the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country,” reversing centuries of precedent and further confusing already complex questions of which authorities are responsible for prosecuting crimes against Native peoples.
The various factors that define Tribal-State-Federal Jurisdiction
|Unknown||Tribal citizen||Depends on what/if a crime is identified, if a defendant is identified, and where the crime took place before determining which authority can investigate.|
|Tribal citizen||Tribal citizen||Tribal OR Federal||Federal Statute/Inherent Authority (Tribal)|
|Tribal citizen||Non-Tribal citizen||Tribal OR Federal||Federal Statute/Inherent Authority (Tribal)|
|Non-Tribal citizen||Tribal citizen||Federal OR State||Federal Statute and State (Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta)|
|Non-Tribal citizen||Non-Tribal citizen||State||Exclusive state jurisdiction|
|NOTE: Tribal citizen/American Indian/Alaska Native is someone who is an enrolled citizen of a federally recognized tribal nation.
Source: OK Policy analysis and U.S. Justice Department
Oklahoma is, like other states, still figuring out how to address the MMIW/P crisis
Throughout the U.S., state-level efforts to address the MMIW/P crisis began taking off in 2019. Recent actions other states have taken include creating a specific task force or legislative committee and prioritizing data collection and further research and reporting mechanisms. With the signing of HB 1077, Oklahoma is the next state to join Washington, Colorado, and California in operating both a dedicated state MMIW/P liaison office and a state-wide alert system.
Recent state activities regarding MMIW/P liaison and statewide alert systems
In October 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that the total number of missing or murdered Indigenous women is still unknown.Their report also found that Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, federal efforts that would have improved the response to Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, remain unfunded and have fallen short of meeting their goals. In November 2021, the Department of Justice, which has an Office of Tribal Justice, launched a Steering Committee to Address the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons that prioritizes coordinated federal law enforcement response for cases within federal jurisdiction and enhancing coordination among tribes, states, and local agencies. This is an important step, but this requires time that many families do not have when a relative goes missing or is murdered.
Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest AI/AN population, the passage of HB1077 and its impact will be tenfold
The Kasey Alert Act will be a proactive effort to immediately alert the public when an Indigenous person goes missing. Oklahoma continues to be one of the top states with the highest population of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and is home to multiple tribal nations. Because of 2021’s Ida’s Law, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation now has an agent who tracks and investigates Missing and Murdered Indigenous Oklahomans and a victim advocate to support families. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Not Invisible Act commission includes Indigenous Oklahoma MMIW/P advocates and a special agent from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation who are working to build national data on this issue.
With the signing of the Kasey Alert Act, Oklahoma becomes a leading state in the nation to prioritize the MMIW/P crisis
Having a law in place does not always equate to finding missing people or delivering justice for those who have been murdered without arrests having been made. Proactive action is needed to ensure the laws are enforced and justice is served. Ida’s Law was Oklahoma’s first step in prioritizing this crisis. The law prioritized data collection and analysis to begin addressing and confronting previous data that was inaccurate, incomplete, or even uncollected. Though more work can be done through proactive, investigative resources and intergovernmental partnerships. A few examples include:
- The governor signing HB 1077/Kasey Alert Act (signed May 1, 2023)
- Allocating dedicated funding at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for Ida’s Law
- Prioritizing education on jurisdiction and cross-deputization agreements and other memoranda of understanding.
- Creating a living strategic plan that is communicated across tribal, state, and federal agencies
- Creating an accessible database and equitable data-sharing potentially through compacts with a focus on honoring data sovereignty
- Being in community/becoming more informed on May 5 MMIW/P Awareness Day or during the 2023 National Week of Action for MMIW/P (May 1-7)
The Kasey Alert, as established in HB 1077, is critical to tribal-state public safety and criminal justice coordination in addressing the national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples crisis. When HB1077 becomes law on Nov. 1, 2023, Oklahoma becomes a leading state in the nation to fully step up in addressing the MMIW/P crisis with both a statewide alert system and dedicated office in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.