Utah’s U.S. Attorney’s Office hired a coordinator to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous persons issues

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) As part of Native American Day on the Hill, people pay tribute and try to bring attention to the epidemic of missing and murdered women in Indian country during a presentation in the Capitol rotunda on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.

Utah’s U.S. Attorney has appointed a coordinator to work with tribal, local, state and federal leaders to develop strategies to address the underreported yet disproportionately high levels of violence committed against Native Americans, particularly Indigenous woman, children and two-spirited people.

Brian Speelman will take on the role of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, or MMIP, coordinator, according to a news release.

U.S. Attorney John Huber said in the release that Speelman would help families who have missing or murdered relatives, as well as assist the attorney’s office in collaborating with other groups trying to solve MMIP-related problems.

The Department of Justice estimates that on some reservations, Indigenous women are killed at rates over 10 times the national average.

Attorney General William P. Barr said in the release, “Native American women face particularly high rates of violence, with at least half suffering sexual or intimate-partner violence in their lifetime. Too many of these families have experienced the loss of loved ones who went missing or were murdered.”

Utah was one of 11 states — Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nevada, Minnesota, Oregon, New Mexico, and Washington — chosen to receive Department of Justice funds to create this position. It’s part of a national initiative that was announced in November to address the issue.

The federal strategy is set out in three parts. Establishing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons coordinators is the first step.

Next, is making available an FBI “Rapid Deployment Team” that can assist tribal, state, or local law enforcement agency in these cases as needed.

Data analysis is the third approach.

Gathering data is important because a lack of information into these crimes is a nationwide problem.

For instance, the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project found that between 1999 and 2017, only about half of the killings of Native people reported by medical officials to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were reported by police to the FBI, compared to about 90% of killings of white people

Speelman previously worked for the FBI and retired as a supervisory special agent in 2011, and then went on to lead the Utah Statewide Information and Analysis Center. Most recently, he worked on homeland security issues with Argonne National Laboratory.

“Brian Speelman brings decades of experience, and is committed to working with our tribal communities and other stakeholders to reduce violent crime and deliver justice,” Huber said in the release.

Utah Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said Friday that this appointment is a step in the right direction for bringing more awareness to MMIP issues. It’s one thing to talk about an issue; it’s another to put money and resources toward the cause, she said.

“Just seeing that people are making an effort to move forward on this is encouraging to me,” said Romero, a co-chairperson of the legislature’s recently defunded Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Task Force that was approved in the 2020 General Session.

Romero said going forward, she hopes to get money allocated to the task force again to try to address more MMIP issues.