The Justice Department on Thursday announced the first update in three decades to the guidelines that govern relations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The new agreement will establish cooperation and information-sharing guidelines for the FBI and the BIA’s Office of Justice Services. The FBI will take an “initial primary role” in investigating any shootings by BIA or tribal police as well as in-custody deaths. The BIA will conduct its own separate internal investigations for any such incidents.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the update at the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit during a panel featuring Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary, who has made addressing tribal issues a major part of her tenure.
This includes the launch of a unit meant to investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW), which frequently go unprosecuted or unsolved due to limits on tribal jurisdiction. The Thursday announcement is intended in part to support the new unit, outlining the procedures for the FBI, tribal police and BIA personnel to enter all such cases into databases like the National Crime Information Center. About 56 percent of American Indian and Alaskan Native women are victims of sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to data from the BIA.
“The FBI is committed to ongoing and continued collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “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. The FBI will not waiver in its support of our Tribal law enforcement agency partners and our coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
The announcement follows similar announcements relating to tribal issues at the summit earlier this week, including the Biden administration’s announcement Wednesday that it will pay three Native American communities $25 million each to voluntarily relocate from areas being enveloped by the effects of climate change.