The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!
From the 15th Annual Shorty Awards

Missing Justice - CBS News

Winner in Podcast Mini Series


More than 81% of American Indian and Alaska Native men and women have experienced some type of violence. It’s data like that that fuels the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis (MMIP). Stories of the crisis have been told before but CBS News wanted to investigate how and why MMIP persists. 

When we started connecting with families touched by tragedy, experts, and lawmakers, they all told us the same thing: There are serious federal law enforcement issues in Indian Country that have never been adequately addressed -- and it’s those pitfalls that leave too many Native Americans missing justice. 

After making hundreds of calls and reading thousands of pages of reports, it was clear to us that the public needed to hear the voices of Native Americans living through this crisis. Their struggles and strength would bring this reporting to life. Through the story of Christy Woodenthigh, a 33-year-old Northern Cheyenne mother who died on March 6, 2020, we aimed to humanize this crisis. Christy’s case also allowed us, with one thread, to weave our investigation through every level of the federal criminal justice system: policing, investigations and prosecutions. 

“Missing Justice” aimed to turn true crime on its head. Christy’s story is not a mystery ‘whodunit’; rather this podcast looks to answer how so many institutions seemed to fail Christy -- in her life and death. Ultimately, this investigation shows how her case is not an exception in Indian Country, but the rule. 

Strategy and Execution

Our investigation spanned 19 months. After five months of research, we traveled to Montana, North Dakota and Arizona. Being on the ground in Indian country was critical as it allowed us to earn the trust of those we interviewed and enabled us to observe life on reservations.

It was critical to honor everyone we spoke to, especially as we asked them to unwrap their trauma in fine detail. The podcast format gave these voices the space and time to express themselves; voices that don’t normally receive national media attention. 

We reported from the Northern Cheyenne reservation for nearly a week. We spoke to tribal members on the street and interviewed them in their homes, places of work and worship. We had at least 12 hours of interview tape with Christy’s sister, Aleda Spang, alone. And we were the only media present at the suspect’s involuntary manslaughter federal trial.

The MMIP crisis is in many ways the result of a dysfunctional criminal justice system. So we retraced how that system worked for Christy. We obtained government records to uncover how federal agents investigated her death. Christy’s family and tribal leadership recounted how they begged for information from investigators, and for an arrest in her case. We recreated courtroom scenes so listeners could hear how three federal agents told a jury how they failed to follow investigative protocols after Christy died; including not writing police reports or properly collecting evidence. 

But in order to report on the federal law enforcement system accurately, our investigation needed to go beyond Northern Cheyenne to prove that Christy’s tragic story wasn’t unique but emblematic of a larger crisis. We spoke to more than 100 tribal leaders, activists, experts and family members. That context allowed us to connect the dots from the faulty investigation into Christy’s death to the complicated nature of policing on reservations across the country. Current and former federal agents said they felt set up to fail in Indian country, partly due to chronic understaffing, which is so dire, it left Northern Cheyenne -- a reservation the size of Houston -- with only three patrolling officers in 2021.

We wanted to move through “Missing Justice” with intention. We are White reporters who have never lived on a Native reservation. It was critical to be conscious of our cultural blind spots while covering this deeply personal crisis. For that reason, we worked with Dr. Iris PrettyPaint, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation and expert in cultural resilience, as a sensitivity reader. She made our reporting better and more nuanced. 

“Missing Justice” aimed to feature some of the hallmarks of Native American culture: Tight community bonds and pride in one’s homeland and customs. As Northern Cheyenne tribal President Serena Wetherelt said, “We are a strong and resilient people.” We wanted to recognize that strength in our production. Our theme music features a distinct drum beat inspired by the drum circles that pulsate through Native powwows. And the series ends with a prayer in the Native Cheyenne language. 


While the MMIP crisis is complex, its victims were very clear: They feel forgotten -- and want justice. So we focused this reporting on accountability and solutions. 

Montana Senator Jon Tester made news when he called for a broad, internal investigation into the Bureau of Indians Affairs law enforcement department. Tester also called for a congressional hearing into the department’s staffing and competency. 

Tester told “Missing Justice” that some of his fellow U.S. senators are not aware of the MMIP crisis, revealing that the Senate Democratic caucus has not received briefs on Indian country issues for more than four years. The senator pledged to discuss with Senate leadership how he could restart these briefs, and after our interview, his office confirmed that the senator will reintroduce the topic to the caucus again in 2023. 

After nearly five months of silence from the Interior Department, top officials -- including Interior Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland and Montana’s U.S. attorney -- traveled to Northern Cheyenne a week before “Missing Justice’s” finale episode to meet with tribal leadership and discuss their ongoing lawsuit against the federal government for better law enforcement resources.

We asked listeners to contact us with stories and were overwhelmed to hear from not only Native families looking to bring justice to their lost loved ones, but also federal agents who wrote to say thank you for showing the realities of policing in Indian country. 


Entrant Company / Organization Name



Entry Credits