The following are steps recommended for the friends and family members of a murdered or missing Indigenous person:*
Consider the circumstances: Might the disappearance be voluntary? Did the missing person intentionally cut ties from family and friends? Or are they missing because of force and violence? Many Native individuals who are victimized by domestic violence disappear, are abducted, or are murdered by their abusers. In light of this, and the lack of law enforcement in Tribal communities, there is an increased need to be informed and immediately respond.
When speaking to these agencies, provide as much detail as possible and record the names of the people you speak to and request copies of any documents completed. Keep a journal, writing down the dates and times, names and telephone numbers of everyone you speak to. It is also helpful to track the progression of events on a calendar.
The hours and minutes following a disappearance are important, so it is recommended that organizations develop a protocol ahead of time, which will allow people to respond in a timely manner to disappearances.
Issue an alert to your community. Circulate an alert, bulletin or flier that provides basic information about the person and how to report any information to the law enforcement agency or community member serving as a contact person. Use social media to keep the community informed if applicable.
Take care of yourself and loved ones through this difficult time. Stay connected to friends and family. Rely on your tribal beliefs and practices for support as a foundation for these efforts.
First, consider whether law enforcement should be contacted. If so, contact them as soon as possible. In some cases, multiple agencies will need to be contacted, including tribal law enforcement, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI, county police, and in Alaska the village public safety officer and state trooper. In some circumstances it might also be helpful to notify Tribal law enforcement in the home community of the missing person.
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Organize community actions like a vigil, search, justice walk, or march to support the family and those left behind. These actions can also hold law enforcement accountable for their response to the situation.
*Adapted from NIWRC’s “Tribal Community Response When a Woman is Missing: A Toolkit for Action.”