BIA opens Anchorage office to investigate cold cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people

Assistant Interior Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney speaks at a ceremony for the opening of an Operation Lady Justice Task Force Cold Case Office in Anchorage. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The statistics are appalling: 30% of Alaska murder victims are Indigenous people even though they are just 16% of the state’s population. Federal authorities in Anchorage Wednesday marked the start of a new effort to bring the perpetrators of those crimes to justice.

“I am proud to announce the opening of the first cold case office in Alaska focused on missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, one of the dignitaries on hand for the ceremony.

The new cold case office is one person, an agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. His name is Rick DeCora.

“Right now, it’s just a matter of developing partnerships and realizing that the entities that are here have been doing this already and I’m just going to be here to help, in whatever help that I can,” he said.

Rick DeCora, Office of Justice Services, at the August 26, 2020, opening ceremony for the Operation Lady Justice Task Force Cold Case Office in Anchorage, Alaska. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Some 300 Alaska Native people are in an FBI missing-persons database. DeCora said he hasn’t yet seen a list of cold cases to tackle.

“I don’t have access to it at this point,” he said. “I’m getting my commission through the Alaska State Troopers and developing that. So at that point I’ll have access to the records.”

Tami Truette Jerue, executive director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, said she’d like to see better communication between law enforcement and the families of missing women.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve had to make a call to law enforcement for a family that’s called me from a village because their daughter came into town. They can’t find her. They can’t get help from law enforcement,” Jerue said. “They won’t listen to them.”

The new cold case office in the BIA building in Anchorage is part of an Interior Department initiative. It’s one of seven such offices nationwide.

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