On Friday, April 30, Eagle Butte resident Floyd Braun was reported missing. Braun is a regular contributor to this newspaper and has a following across the northwest. Braun was located on Sunday, May 2, and is safe and well.
The disappearance and subsequent rapid location of Floyd Braun shows what can happen when a community has early warning of a disappearance, when family and friends know what to do, when the community has resources to mobilize, and when there is support from the highest levels with the expertise to liaise with outside law enforcement.
Ideally, all Indigenous communities should be able to mount a similar response when a Tribal member goes missing. Given the heightened environment in which any disappearance of a Native American takes place, all available tools should be available at a moment’s notice.
The lack of coordinated systems in data collection and tracking, and the difficulty in sharing information across institutional barriers, makes is very hard to mount a similar response when someone goes missing or a murder is discovered.
Violence against Indigenous people is epidemic in North America. While the community of Cheyenne River came together to look for Braun, many missing and murdered Indigenous relatives are not as lucky.
Resources were deployed early.
Braun was reported missing early, on the same day he disappeared. Because of the increased danger of violence and misadventure for any Indigenous person, Braun’s family reached out early instead waiting.
Local law enforcement and Tribal authorities responded immediately to spread the word and to search. CRST Chairman Harold Frazier and Vice-Chairman Bob Walters personally searched. The CRST Command Center was activated to coordinate resources and communication.
While originally stood up in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the structure and reach of the Command Center was essential in coordinating the search for a missing Tribal member.
Braun was listed in the national database of missing people within 24 hours of his disappearance, which is unbelievably fast.
Because of Braun’s wide personal network, information about Braun hit social media right away and was able to spread across the country. People far and wide were on the lookout and spreading the word. Prayers were offered from Massachusetts to Washington State.
Because he is a regular contributor to this paper, news of his disappearance was shared by his local hometown newspaper on Facebook and Twitter, and the publisher was ready to print the Missing Persons flyer in other regional newspapers.
Braun was found within 72 hours of being reported missing. Once he passed out of the boundaries of Tribal law enforcement, local police worked with off-reservation police departments to confirm his whereabouts and safety.
Many missing Indigenous people are not as fortunate.
The crisis in missing and murdered Indigenous relatives touches thousands of people each year. In 2019 it’s estimated over 5,600 Indigenous women and girls disappeared.
According to multiple resources, Native American women are more than twice as likely to experience violence than other demographics of women. One in three Native women is sexually assaulted during her life, and 67% of these assaults are perpetrated by non-Native people.
Last month, newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the creation of unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate missing and murdered Indigenous people.
(The BIA sits within the Department of the Interior and, as such, Haaland is the first Native American to ever have jurisdiction over the very agency which oversees the relationship between the United States and the sovereign Native nations within its borders.)
Haaland said, “Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades.”
While that violence is most acute for women and girls, Indigenous men and boys are also victims of murder, violence and sexual abuse. Native men are 1.3 more times likely to suffer violence than non-Hispanic or Caucasian men.
According to Felicia Fonseca at the Associated Press, “No one knows exactly how many Native Americans are missing because some cases go unreported, others aren’t documented, and there isn’t a specific government database tracking the cases,” an Associated Press investigation in 2018 found.
While there is much that still needs to be done in creating a rapid response to a missing person’s alert, the response of CRST highlights the aspects of a strong response. When a family knows what to do and takes action early, when local authorities take ownership and individuals put boots on the ground, when law enforcement does it’s best to make a human connection across barriers of culture, technology and distance, missing relatives can come home.