Updated data sheds light on missing Alaska Natives statewide

Published: Oct. 28, 2023 at 11:13 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Investigators across Alaska have found 197 Indigenous people since the beginning of July, but the same number were reported missing during that period.

Those and other new statistics are included in a report issued Thursday by the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS), along with the Anchorage and Fairbanks police departments.

The second of its kind, the 15-page Missing Alaska Natives and American Indians Quarterly Report contains pertinent information about Alaska Natives, American Indians (AN/AI) and those of unknown race who were missing as of Oct. 2.

The first report, released in August and covering the period from April 1 to June 30, showed that 199 people who are Indigenous or of unknown race were reported missing in Alaska during that time, while 174 were located.

As well as personal and demographical notes about the individuals, such as birth date, sex, and race, the reports include categories for the circumstances under which investigators conclude people are missing. The list released Thursday contains 345 names of missing AN/AI people or those of unknown race.

Of the four categories: Environment, Not Suspicious, Suspicious and Unknown, almost four in five of the missing people fall under the Environment category, the October release indicates.

The report says public safety officials place missing Indigenous people’s cases in this category if outdoors-related deaths are deemed non-suspicious but remains are not found.

Statewide, the report shows investigators recorded about five percent of the cases as Suspicious, a category reserved for when officials suspect criminal activity to have played a role in a person’s disappearance. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, though, that percentage is higher, with six out of the 24 people reported missing in this area under suspicious circumstances, or 25 percent.

According to the August release, these new quarterly reports stem from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 2021 People First Initiative, an effort that came to place a focus on data sharing. The initiative also prompted DPS to add race and sex data to the Alaska Missing Persons Clearinghouse. That dataset is publicly available.

While these changes increase clarity for a problem that continues to trouble the state, and the nation, they in turn bring to bear the depth of an issue that affects Alaskan communities and the families within them.

According to the Alaska Missing Persons Clearinghouse data, around 29 percent of missing people reported in the state are AN/AI, yet 2020 U.S. Census data shows AN/AI people comprise just short of 22 percent of the state’s population.

Disproportionately affecting Indigenous populations, this issue is now well recognized. A 2018 Urban Indian Health Institute report found Anchorage ranked third among U.S. cities in terms of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, while Alaska was fourth among states for that same statistic.

At the national level, a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report found that homicide was the fifth leading cause of death for AN/AI males and the seventh leading cause of death for AN/AI females.

If someone you know is missing, call 911 as soon as you can. There is no waiting period necessary before making a report, according to DPS.