Native American women throughout the state do not solely reside on the reservation or rural regions — they also live in urban areas and are victims of homicide at levels many times the national average.
And, they have alarming high rates of disappearances — signaling a call for Washington State Patrol (WSP), together with federally recognized tribes, tribal law enforcement, urban Indian organizations and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to begin implementing justice for missing indigenous persons.
Understanding existing cultural barriers between tribes and law enforcement make investigations difficult, and justice and data retrieval is an elusive goal. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse to deal with the issue any longer. Record-keeping protocols must be updated and implemented immediately — no agency can adequately respond to violence it does not track.
House Bill 1713, authored by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, Goldendale-14th District seeks to continue the advancement in the investigation of missing and murdered indigenous women, and other indigenous persons, while seeking justice for their families, gained unanimous approval by the Washington State House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 5.
Components of this bill call for the legislation establishing two tribal liaison positions within the Washington State Patrol to build trust and help tribal residents feel comfortable coming forward when tragedies happen.
It also creates an official task force on missing and murdered Native American women to improve monitoring and law enforcement response.
A third element will accomplish a best protocol for law enforcement response that includes setting up a database of missing women and ensuring state and local jurisdictions are sharing information.
According to the Urban Indian Health Institute’s “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls” report, Seattle has the highest rate of open unsolved cases of Native women who have gone missing. Washington state has the second highest rate. The report stated that, nationally, Native American women experience sexual assault and domestic violence at ten times the national average.
Mosbrucker says it’s time to find out what happened and provide families with the help and justice they deserve.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington reported that 10,642 Native people are missing throughout the country. From that total, 5,712 were women and girls.
Back on March 15, 2018, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill aimed at shedding light on the cases of missing or murdered Native American women.
The law directed the WSP to begin working with tribes, local law enforcement and the Department of Justice. The goal is to understand how to increase resources for reporting and identifying missing Native American women.
The legislation directed the WSP to report back to the Legislature with its findings by June 1, 2019. This data is vital in the protective actions by those agencies entrusted to stop the violence and uphold justice for all.
These groups had eight meetings across the state to consider public input on how to create a better response. One of those public forums was in Toppenish on Monday, Jan. 14.
The Yakama Nation had an all-day community meeting where approximately 300 people were in attendance to discuss violence that affects Native American women and girls.
Charlene Tillequots is a member of the Yakama Nation’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Special Committee.
She spoke at the Jan. 14 meeting in Toppenish, stating, “We don’t need another study. We need action to address a human rights issue.”
The bill is now on its way to the Senate. The bill contains an emergency clause that allows it to take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.