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Nicole Wagon (Northern Arapaho) had spent a year trying to bring the killers of her daughter Jocelyn to justice when she received distressing news — her other daughter, Jade, was missing. 

Jocelyn had been found shot dead with her partner in her home in Riverton, Wyo., on January 4, 2019. She was 30 at the time of her death.  

Almost one year later to the day, Wagon filed a missing persons report for Jade, who was 23. Two weeks later, Jade was found dead on the Wind River Reservation in west-central Wyoming.  

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Like many missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP) advocates across Indian Country, the deaths of her children spurred Wagon into action. She joined the state’s first-ever MMIP Task Force, which was launched the same year Jocelyn was killed, and founded MMIP WindRiver, a group that advocates for victims and families. She also testified before a federal commission in Billings, pioneered a statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people, and partnered with award-winning journalists to tell her story on an eight-episode podcast on audio platform Audible. 

Wagon has worked tirelessly to ensure her daughters and women like them are not forgotten. Now, she says, the federal government is starting to catch up. Last week, the FBI announced it is embarking on a 90-day data collection project to compile an accurate list of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state of Wyoming. 

“It’s taken the FBI five years to gather data on the scope of MMIP and embrace this epidemic as it is occurring on these federal lands,” Wagon said. “I am grateful that they are stepping up, so these MMIP families' voices will be heard.”

The MMIP crisis is prevalent across the country, with Indigenous peoples being murdered at a rate ten times the national average. Homicide is the leading cause of death for Native women ages 10-24 and the fifth-leading cause of death for Native women 25-34.  While the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates there are 4,200 unsolved MMIP cases, the actual number is likely higher, Native advocates say.   

Native American people make up about 3.5% of Wyoming’s population but represent 15% of the missing persons recorded in the state’s National Crime Information Center.

The FBI says it is undertaking the data-collection project to understand what the MMIP crisis looks like in Wyoming and what resources are needed to move the needle. The Bureau is partnering with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and Northern Arapaho tribes, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Wyoming, and researchers from the University of Wyoming. 

“We know that when murders and missing persons cases on the Wind River Reservation go unsolved, families and communities can be devastated,” Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek, who oversees FBI operations in Wyoming, said in a statement.

In-person information-gathering sessions will be held on the Wind River Reservation, where families of victims and anyone with information related to an MMIP case can submit information to the bureau. 

 The Shoshone Business Council and the Northern Arapaho Business Council are urging tribal members to offer the FBI any information they may have about unresolved MMIP cases. 

“For decades, we have mourned scores of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People across Indian Country,” Lloyd Goggle, chairman of the Arapaho Business Council, said in a statement promoting the collaboration. “Our Native brothers and sisters fall victim to homicide at a rate approximately eight times higher than the general public. Tragically, far too many of these cases have gone unreported or unsolved. We urge the Arapaho people to bring forward any information they may have to federal authorities so that there can be justice for the victims and closure for their families.”

After a 90-day data collection period, the FBI will research and investigate the tips brought to its attention. In situations where the FBI does not have jurisdiction, information will be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Findings will be presented to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes first, and then to the public.

Wagon encourages families to summon the courage to submit information about their loved one’s murder or disappearance to the FBI during the data collection period. As well, she encourages people to get involved with the vast network of MMIP advocacy groups across Indian Country.

“You are not alone,” she said. “You might feel like you are alone, but there is a huge network.”

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Wagon wants her work to bring other families hope on their journey to bring justice to their missing or murdered loved ones. Wagon said she received justice for Jocelyn, whose killers were prosecuted last year. She recalls the day officers came to her house to tell her four people had been arrested for Jocelyn’s murder.

She immediately thought of her father and what he told her the day Jocelyn was found murdered in 2019. 

“He looked me in my eyes and said, ‘You will find who did this to her.’” 

Jocelyn was his first grandchild. When her killers were brought to justice, Wagon’s father had passed on, but she thought, “Dad, we did it.”

Now, she is shifting her focus to finding justice for Jade.  Wagon brings her grandson and granddaughter, Jade’s children, to MMIP marches and advocacy meetings. Last month, they went with her to bring donuts and MMIP t-shirts to the Riverton Police Department. 

“They give me strength and joy to stand up and move forward. I see my daughter in them,” she said. “Her life mattered.”

If you have any information about an unsolved case involving a missing or murdered tribal member or Native American community member in Wyoming, you can email [email protected] or leave a message, including your name and phone number, at (307) 433-3221.

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About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.