Amid calls by Indigenous families to do more to find their relatives, the U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Minnesota has created a new Indian Country section focusing on closing missing and murdered person cases.
U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger said Tuesday five newly hired attorneys staff the new section. Luger said most of the work previously was handled by one or two lawyers in the U.S. attorney’s office.
“For decades United States attorneys have talked about adding lawyers to our Indian Country work, including work on [missing and murdered Indigenous person] cases and issues of violence against women and children, but we simply have not had the resources to do so,” he said.
“Rarely do I get an opportunity to say I have good news, but today I get to say this: Our resources issues have been solved for the first time in decades.”
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The funding for the attorneys came from the U.S. Department of Justice. The district of Minnesota employs around 65 assistant U.S. attorneys, according to the office’s website.
‘It affects all of us’
Several tribal members who have lost a loved one to violent crime testified to the Not Invisible Act Commission, an advisory committee representing tribal leaders, service providers, law enforcement and survivors.
Monte Fronk, a citizen of the Red Lake Nation, is a public safety officer with Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe’s Tribal Emergency Management service. Fronk testified as a parent of a murdered daughter. He said the day she was found dead was “the worst day of my life.”
Fronk said advocates trying to draw more attention to the issue pressed him to talk about it when he felt ready to do so.
“They said, ‘When you are ready, don’t let your daughter’s death and her murder be a check in a box.’ In this epidemic, who is the voice of this epidemic? It is the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters, aunties and cousins,” he said. “Who we don’t hear from is the fathers. I stand before you as a brother in public safety, and as a father of a missing and murdered Indigenous woman.”
Nada Fronk disappeared in 2013, a victim of sex trafficking, her father said. Hennepin County authorities say she died in a murder-suicide. The man who killed Nada shared her apartment in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
As Fronk spoke to the commission, a photo of his daughter’s headstone appeared on a large screen.
“Many missing and murdered Indigenous relatives are still being searched for,” Fronk said as he fought back tears,.
“I know where my daughter is. She is across from my house in the Chi-minsing district in the cemetery. Many advocates of Indian Country have said I am one of the few that have closure because you know where your daughter is at. I meet families who are waiting for that answer, and it may never happen.”
Fronk said it’s a mistake to think there is one type of family or home in Indian Country who falls victim to violent crime.
“I am 35 years in law enforcement, it can happen to any of us. When you look at who this affects, it affects all of us.”
Fronk’s work in public safety meant that he had connections to victim advocates and community organizations. He recognizes that’s not the case for many Native families, who must navigate a complex maze of state, tribal and federal jurisdictions leaving many exhausted and frustrated.
The testimony given by Fronk and others urged commissioners to consider expanding cultural competency training for law enforcement officers advocates, and prosecutors who work Native families during the investigative and prosecutorial phases of cases. He also urged commissioners to create new partnerships for tribal law enforcement to work alongside state and federal agencies investigating violent crime across Indian Country.
The Not Invisible Act Commission continues to develop a set of recommendations to improve how tribal, state, and federal agencies communicate with one another and families and to bolster support services for survivors and victim families.
The commission will make recommendations to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland later this year.
The Not Invisible Act was signed into law in 2020 in response to the calls to end the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous people.