CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Mich. (PRESS RELEASE/WJMN) – Two tribes in the Upper Peninsula announced their response plans today for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).

Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC) and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians held the event at the Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste. Marie.

Video message remarks were made by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haalaand, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and other dignitaries.

Law enforcement officials, victim services coordinators, and communication departments from both tribes have been working together alongside the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for the last six months to help create these plans to protect their Indigenous communities.

“Native women face rates of murder that are ten times higher than the national average, and murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women,” said BMIC President/Chairperson Whitney Gravelle. “Of these statistics, 40 percent of Native women victims are also victims of human sex trafficking, even though we only make up ten percent of the overall population in the United States. To bring that into perspective, if you know a Native woman, or you know a Native woman and her family, you also know someone who has survived violence in their lifetime, whether it be domestic, physical, or sexual.”

The MMIP Tribal Response Plans are part of a broader initiative by the DOJ, which was created through congressional action (Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act).

The plans will be deployed if and when any Native individual fits the core criteria for missing or murdered by law enforcement officials. The plans address four core components of a proper response to a missing person’s case: law enforcement, victim services, community outreach, and public communications. Both tribes’ plans are victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally honoring.

The tribes have curated their own checklists to ensure that every step of the process is followed through so that a response to missing persons is effective. Just last week a young boy who lives within the Sault Tribe reservation in Kinross went missing. He was eventually found in Tennessee with suspects he met through social media apps. Those suspects had been previously investigated for their involvement with sex crimes. Sault Ste. Marie Tribal Police Chief Robert Marchand noted that this checklist was utilized in this young boy’s investigation.

“It’s a horrible thing, but it had a great outcome. And I think this is a majority of the reason why we had that outcome. That checklist was instrumental to go through and say alright ‘What have we done? Where are you at? How can we help?'” said Marchand.

The BMIC and Sault Tribe were both a part of a pilot project aimed at providing other tribes with guidance on creating their own plans. Their work will serve as a part of a template for tribal nations across the country to develop their own MMIP response plans.

 “In our Anishinaabe Biimaadziwin, life is sacred. Everyone who is a victim of crime, murdered or missing is someone’s loved one. Regardless of the circumstances, they deserve our best efforts to prevent, rescue and recover them,” said Sault Tribe Chairperson Aaron Payment. “The MMIP protocol is an affirmative step in this direction. I appreciate our Sault Tribe and Bay Mills comprehensive team effort in creating a model we intend to share with other tribes.”

During the event, law enforcement officials provided an overview of their actions, as well as services that will be provided by victim services units.

“Over the past several months, working groups from Bay Mills and Sault Tribe formed under a pilot project to write their Tribal Community Response Plan (TCRP) to respond to a missing person report. I saw that we all had a heartfelt passion to get this plan right for both the victims and their families while remaining culturally sensitive, balanced with what the law requires,” said Joel Postma, DOJ’s MMIP coordinator for Michigan. “I’ve been thoroughly impressed with how everyone has come together to make their communities a safer place.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office has been working to increase collaboration and communication with tribes, all relevant law enforcement partners, MMIP victim families, grassroots Indigenous persons and groups, and all other MMIP stakeholders.

“With these response plans, we see tribes — here the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe — taking the lead on the difficult and important challenge of setting forth how best to respond to reports of missing and murdered members of their communities,” said Birge. “I fully expect other communities and law enforcement agencies — tribal and non-tribal alike — will see these plans as examples to follow.”

Michigan is among the first of six pilot-program states developing community response plans, in accordance with the U.S. Attorney General’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative and the President’s Operation Lady Justice Task Force. The other states are Oklahoma, Montana, Minnesota, Alaska and Oregon.