MICHIGAN (WJMN) – Back in November of 2019, Attorney General William Barr launched a national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative was introduced to “develop protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to missing Indigenous peoples cases.”

In July 2020, the U.S. Attorneys for the Western and Eastern Districts of Michigan appointed Joel Postma as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Coordinator for the two districts, which includes all twelve tribes in the state.

Postma, who grew up in the Upper Peninsula, is one of the ten MMIP coordinators in the country appointed by the Department of Justice.

“I grew up close to a tribe and I really feel a closeness, a tie to them,” said Postma. “I’m not a tribal member but I always felt and I was always brought up that everyone is created equal. I do feel that over the course of my law enforcement career that there may be some people that may be disadvantaged. I’m very saddened by that. I want us to all have equal justice.”

Postma previously served as an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 25 years. He worked on cases involving missing and runaway children, as well as death investigations in Indian Country in the U.P. He was an early and active participant in Tribal Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) and
Child Protection Team (CPT) meetings. He also established protocols for drug investigations in Indian Country and initiated a “ride-along” program to foster a better working relationship between the FBI and tribal law enforcement.

In his new role as coordinator, he will gather data to identify MMIP cases connected to Michigan, conduct outreach with tribal communities to understand the challenges revealed through past experience, coordinate with tribal, federal, state and local law enforcement in the development of protocols and procedures for responding to and addressing MMIP, provide training and assistance and promote improved data collection and analyses throughout Michigan.

“If we find that it’s a problem, there are certainly efforts that can be made to help train, and to come up with protocols, to come up with best practices and procedures of what we can do to help the tribes and law enforcement. It is very unfortunate that there are victims and victims families who have suffered due to many issues that have arisen within their tribes,” said Postma.

In the next few months, Postma will be having conversations with all of the tribes on this issue.

“We are certainly open and willing to listen. We appreciate our tribes, we respect our tribes. We respect all areas of law enforcement, and certainly when there is an issue that is in one of our tribes. We here want to make sure that we have provided and given all the best resources and support that we can to make sure that there is a good, solid ending,” said Postma.

Local 3 reached out to the tribes here in the U.P. for comments on this new appointment. A written statement from Hannahville Indian Community’s Tribal Chairperson Kenneth Meshigaud said:

“The Hannahville Indian Community is in support of such an important position within the State of Michigan.  Native communities are hit harder on a per capita basis than the rest of the State’s general population thusly we receive a fraction of the support and assistance needed to solve such crimes.  I know resources are tight everywhere but the lives of our missing and murdered tribal citizens mean just as much to our communities, so positions such as this will hopefully assist us where it is so desperately needed.”

Whitney Gravelle, the tribal attorney for Bay Mills Indian Community, stated:

If utilized correctly, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator for Michigan could foster a much needed relationship between tribal, federal, and state enforcement agencies. A relationship that empowers Tribes with the ability, resources, training, and partnerships that will allow them to adequately investigate, prosecute, and punish the crimes committed against Native women.

In the State of Michigan, the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People goes largely ignored by the administration and general public. For too long Tribes have suffered waiting for others because they have been denied the ability to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators, and a lack of resources impedes investigation and help from the federal government, which prevents tribes from providing Native women the protection and help they deserve.

The National Institute of Justice reports that more than 4 in 5 Native women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, more than 1 in 2 have experienced physical or sexual violence by intimate partners, and more than 1 in 12 have experienced it in the past year. In addition, Native women face rates of murder that are 10 times higher than the national average, and murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women. Of these statistics, 9 in 10 Native women report being victimized by a non-Indian perpetrator.

These statistics are also interwoven with human trafficking statistics for the State of Michigan. For the survivors of human trafficking, nearly all of them reported having experienced physical and sexual violence. What that means for the twelve federally recognized Tribes and the State of Michigan is that –  all of these issues are woven into a narrative that demands we do more for the women of Indian Country and the women of Michigan.

Bay Mills Indian Community looks forward to working with Mr. Postma on this critical issue. In our tribal communities, “kwewag gchitwaa aawiwag,” women are sacred. It is long past due that we begin empowering Tribes with the ability to respond to crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence on our lands, and empowering Tribes with the ability to protect our people.