UW-Madison professor appointed to Not Invisible Act Commission to address violent crime against Indigenous Americans

Grace Bulltail, a professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, is among those appointed to serve on a commission focusing on addressing violent crime within Indian lands and against American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, named members of the Not Invisible Act Commission during a live webcast recognizing May 5 as National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Day. Bulltail’s research centers on natural resource management, tribal resource sovereignty and environmental justice in Indigenous communities.

Grace Bulltail
Grace Bulltail

Bulltail and her family have been impacted by the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) crisis. Her 18-year-old niece Kaysera Stops Pretty Places went missing in August 2019, and was later found murdered in Hardin, Mont., a border town of the Crow reservation. Her disappearance and death have not been investigated as a homicide by Big Horn County law enforcement. Big Horn County has the highest rates of MMIWG cases per capita of any county in the nation. Grace and her family have had to conduct their own investigation, as many MMIWG families do, seeking answers while continuing to be dismissed by all levels of law enforcement in the state.

“We want to ensure that our advocacy efforts are heard and make a meaningful contribution toward addressing this horrific crisis in our communities. Too many families have gone without investigations, answers, and justice in their loved ones’ disappearances and murders,” says Bulltail. “We have asked all the officials and taskforces for help, often to no avail. We demand that those creating policy resolutions to the crisis listen to those of us who have had to become our own advocates in navigating the justice system.”

The cross-jurisdictional advisory committee is composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals and, most importantly, survivors.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, but a lack of urgency, transparency and coordination have hampered our country’s efforts to combat violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in the webcast announcing commission members. “As we work with the Department of Justice to prioritize the national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, the Not Invisible Act Commission will help address its underlying roots by ensuring the voices of those impacted by violence against Native people are included in our quest to implement solutions.”

“The Justice Department is committed to addressing the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous persons with the urgency it demands,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in the announcement. “That commitment is reflected in the strength of our partnerships across the federal government, including with the Department of the Interior as we take the next steps in launching the Not Invisible Act Commission. The Commissioners announced today will play a critical role in our efforts to better meet the public safety needs of Native communities. The Justice Department will continue to work alongside our Tribal partners with respect, sincerity, and a shared interest in the wellbeing of Tribal communities.”

The Not Invisible Act Commission will make recommendations to the Departments of the Interior and Justice to improve intergovernmental coordination and establish best practices for state, tribal, and federal law enforcement, to bolster resources for survivors and victim’s families, and to combat the epidemic of missing persons, murder and trafficking of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian people.

Among its mission, the Commission will:

  • Identify, report and respond to instances of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples (MMIP) cases and human trafficking,
  • Develop legislative and administrative changes necessary to use federal programs, properties, and resources to combat the crisis,
  • Track and report data on MMIP and human trafficking cases,
  • Consider issues related to the hiring and retention of law enforcement offices,
  • Coordinate tribal-state-federal resources to combat MMIP and human trafficking offices on Indian lands, and
  • Increase information sharing with tribal governments on violent crimes investigations and other prosecutions on Indian lands.

The Commission has the authority to hold hearings, gather testimony, and receive additional evidence and feedback from its members to develop recommendations to the Secretary and Attorney General.

Enacted in October 2020, the Not Invisible Act of 2019 was signed into law as the first bill in history to be introduced and passed by four U.S. congressional members enrolled in their respective federally recognized tribes, led by Secretary Haaland during her time in Congress.

Bulltail’s research goals are at the intersection of watershed management and tribal sovereignty. Her work addresses environmental justice as it encompasses Indigenous human rights, with the most vulnerable population being Indigenous women and girls, particularly in resource-extractive communities. A member of the Crow Tribe and a descendant of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Tribes of Fort Berthold, North Dakota, Bulltail has spent much of her career studying the impact natural resource extraction on water quality and watershed management. A professional engineer and American Indian Science and Engineering Society board member, Bulltail received a bachelor of science in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University and a doctorate from the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.