Nearly 200 Native Americans are missing from the Navajo Nation. A new FBI database is in the works to tackle unsolved cases

Gallup, New Mexico

Sadie Acevedo lives a never-ending cycle of grief.

His sister, Anthonette Cayedito, disappeared from the family home in Gallup, New Mexico one evening in 1986 and has not been seen since. Acevedo believes that Cayeditor’s disappearance could be related to a relative.

“I have a hole in my life because we don’t know where it is,” Acevedo told CNN.

Cayedito is among nearly 200 missing Native Americans and Native Americans in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

“I think that number is much higher,” Acevedo said. “I think it gets overlooked a lot.”


The crisis has spurred the FBI into action by hiring the agency’s intelligence resources known for fighting crime and terrorism to create a major database of missing Native Americans. The database includes photographs of the missing, along with their age, gender and date of last contact. Officials say their hope is to bring more tips and guidance from the public. Police say a number of challenges, including limited evidence in tribal communities and families who won’t talk to police, have prevented many cases from being solved. The FBI database has been praised by advocates who say the cases of missing and murdered Native Americans are not getting the attention they deserve from police.

The issue has caught the attention of President Joe Biden’s administration, which has rolled out several initiatives to combat violence against Native Americans, including a new unit at the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate cases while coordinating resources between federal agencies and Indian nations.

“The crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples is centuries old, and it will take focused effort and time to unravel the many threads that contribute to the alarming rates,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in May.

Ryan Summers, a supervisory intelligence analyst for the FBI, said names have already been removed from the database after their cases have been resolved. Others have also been added, he said.

“I think that’s a good indication of what we’re getting from the public,” Summers said.

Navajo Nation police are also pleased with the FBI’s work in building the database.

Navajo Police Chief Daryl Noon acknowledged that authorities must step up their efforts to solve the cases of missing and murdered Native Americans.

Noon, who previously has a missing family member in California, said he understands that waiting for answers and closure can be frustrating for families.
“We recognize that maybe we weren’t doing something as well as we should have, that we could have done it,” Noon said. “And so this is the result of that. We want the public to understand, we get it.”

In this May 4, 2016 photo, Klande Willie, left, and her mother, Jaycelyn Blackie, participate in a candlelight vigil in Lower Fruitland, New Mexico, for Ashlynne Mike, who was kidnapped and left for dead on a remote Navajo site.  the nation  (Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP, file)

Authorities say they have long faced challenges that have prevented them from solving cases. Police say that in some cases it involves a crime against the family and relatives refuse to give information because they don’t want the person responsible to go to jail. In other cases, there is limited evidence. Tribal communities generally do not have doorbell cameras or outdoor security cameras that help police investigate urban or suburban cases.

“That’s why the FBI’s new database is so important; it allows the public to take an active role in helping law enforcement,” said an FBI special agent who spoke on condition of anonymity because a large part of his work involves violent crime cases.

Advocates say they don’t believe police have devoted enough resources to investigating cases of missing and dead Native Americans.

Darlene Gomez, a New Mexico attorney representing the families of 17 missing and murdered Native Americans, said she was glad to see the FBI database, but still believes Navajo Nation police agencies are understaffed for such cases.

For example, Gomez said some Native Americans live 200 miles from their tribal community police substation. Because those stations are staffed with few officers, there are times when there is no one to take a report or follow up on a lead, Gomez said.

Some Native Americans also don’t trust the police because their community is not represented, Gomez said. Agents have also been known to blame the victim when they disappear.

The police must make more efforts to investigate the cases and the lack of technology should not be an obstacle, said Gomez.

“Police officers have been doing their job since the beginning of time,” Gomez said. “You have to go to old police jobs. Going to grocery stores and gas stations and interviewing people.’

Gomez said he believes missing persons from Native American communities have not been prioritized by police agencies.

“In the end, it is necessary to have equality for all people,” said Gomez. “And I believe there is no equality for Native Americans and people of color. And the difference is caused by outside agencies, police departments in general.”

In the meantime, Acevedo is asking the public to go to the FBI’s database and look at all the photos of the missing persons. Any tips or information can help bring closure to a family, she said.

“You only have so much time to be on Facebook, so much time to sit there and scroll and scroll,” Acevedo said. “If it was your child, it would be important. It’s someone else’s child, make it important.”