OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday signed into law a bill intended to coordinate state and federal law enforcement efforts when investigating missing or murdered Indigenous people.
The law requires the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to coordinate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain federal funding and coordinate their efforts to gather information and data about missing and murdered indigenous people in Oklahoma.
The OSBI would create an Office of Liaison to develop protocols for law enforcement response to reports of missing or slain Native Americans and to assist victims’ families in understanding the legal processes.
“Far too often when a Native (American) goes missing or is found murdered their families have to navigate a complex checkerboard of jurisdiction,” Stitt said. “This bill will ensure a more coordinated response” between state and federal agencies.
Known as Ida’s law, it is named for 29-year-old Ida Beard of El Reno, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, who disappeared in 2015 and has never been found.
Beard’s cousin, LaRenda Morgan, said the law leaves her with a sense of gratitude.
“I’m just very, very grateful, thankful,” Morgan said. “Thank you so much, all of you, for showing compassion and showing that you care about Indian Country.”
In 2019, then U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a nationwide plan to address missing and slain Native American women. Missing Native American men and boys were added to the plan in 2020.
The project includes $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney’s offices across the U.S. with significant Indian Country caseloads, which include Oklahoma. The coordinators are to develop protocols for a better law enforcement response to missing persons cases.
U.S. attorneys and tribal leaders in Oklahoma and Montana last year announced they will participate in pilot projects to better coordinate investigative efforts surrounding cases of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples.
An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how many cases of missing and murdered Native American women happen nationwide because many go unreported, others aren’t well documented and no government database specifically tracks them.